Monday, 16 December 2019

Cheltenham Festival Tips: What are the Best Ante-Post Bets?

The 2019/20 National Hunt season is well underway and several exciting contenders have already emerged for the biggest prizes at the Cheltenham Festival in March. The Gold Cup, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle are all up for grabs at the most important and prestigious meeting of the year. All roads now point to Cheltenham and these are the top ante-post selections:

Lostintranslation for the Gold Cup

Colin Tizzard’s seven-year-old superstar has displayed superb form this season and he has stormed to the top of the ante post betting for the biggest race of the year.

Lostintranslation was second to Defi Du Seuil at the JLT Novices’ Chase in March, and he has been on an upward curve ever since. He blitzed a strong field to win the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April, and he was impressive in winning a Listed chase on his seasonal reappearance.

That saw Lostintranslation installed as joint favourite along with defending champion Bristol De Mai at the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November. It was difficult to separate as they went over the last, but Lostintranslation found another gear on the home straight and earned a one-and-a-half length victory. Everything now points to a Gold Cup trip, but first he must tackle the second leg of the Triple Crown of Jumps Racing: the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. He is the second favourite, after only the impressive Cyrname, but he looks dangerous in that field and he should be a serious Gold Cup contender.

He has only lost to Defi Du Seuil in his last seven, but he beat that horse twice previously, and Tizzard is feeling confident. “Lostintranslation has come out of Haydock beautifully, he is a big strong horse in the peak of his powers at the moment and I couldn’t be happier with him,” said the trainer. “He has got everything going for him, he is a beautiful young horse. He has now moved into Cue Card’s box which tells a story of where we think he is. He has still got to do it, he still hasn't won a king George and he still has not won a Gold Cup. It is still all in front of him.”

Altior for the Champion Chase

Altior could aim for a third straight victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March. Nicky Henderson’s magnificent chaser became the punters’ darling by storming to victory in 2018 and easily defending his crown earlier this year. Victory at the Grade 1 Celebration Chase in April extended his long unbeaten record over fences, and suggested that his invincibility would continue.

Yet Henderson then took the bold decision of stepping Altior up in trip and heading down the King George route. That meant a visit to Ascot to contest the Christy Chase over 2m 5f 8y last month, where he came up against a bang in form Cyrname. That is the distance Cyrname specialises in, and it showed. He did not let Altior assume his usual position at the front of the field, and he then ran on well to secure a strong victory, with the 1/3 favourite more than two lengths back.

The result leaves Henderson at a crossroads with Altior. He could continue down this path and hope that Altior begins to build up his stamina, adapt to the longer trip and seize major honours. Alternatively, he could return to the distance that Altior was so successful over and see if he still has the pace to dominate his rivals. He has already said “bring on round two” against Cyrname, but if he struggles at Kempton on Boxing Day – where Cyrname, Lostintranslation and 2018 winner Clan Des Obeaux are all ahead of him in the betting – then Henderson could change tack. Altior was a huge, odds-on favourite for the Champion Chase in 2019, but he is now as long as 7/2 for the 2020 renewal, which could provide plenty of value for punters.

Cyrname for the Ryanair Chase

Paul Nicholls’ Cyrname has been in devastating form throughout 2019. The seven-year-old moved ahead of Altior in the official rankings with a stunning triumph in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase in February and that announced him as a serious contender for glory this season. Punters were giddy with excitement about the prospect of him locking horns with Altior – it was likened to the epic duels between Kauto Star and Denman – but Cyrname was far stronger in the Christy Chase. It will be fascinating to see how he gets on away from Ascot, but his potential looks huge.

It will also be interesting to see where he fits in at the Cheltenham Festival. He has been cut from 33/1 to just 12/1 with some bookmakers for the Gold Cup, but the Ryanair Chase seems like a far more suitable contest for Cyrname. Defi Du Seuil is the favourite in the Cheltenham Ante Post odds, with Min and Chacun Pour Soi and even Douvan in the mix, but Cyrname might be an interesting option at 10/1.

Paisley Park for the Stayers’ Hurdle

The legendary Paisley Park extended his winning streak to six races when he triumphed in the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle over 3m 52y at Newbury in November. His victory in the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle was the stuff of fairy-tales. The hurdler nearly died two years previously from a serious illness, but he went on to give trainer Emma Lavelle and jockey Aidan Coleman their first top-level Grade One wins after years of trying.

What really captured the public’s imagination was the excitement, determination and wry humour of owner Andrew Gemmell, who was born blind. He could not watch the race, but he was clearly exhilarated as he absorbed the action, and the victory brought tears to the eyes of many viewers. Paisley Park continues to improve and he will surely be back for another crack at the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2020. It will be difficult for anyone to stop him triumphing again.

Tiger Roll for the Cross Country Chase

Another returning hero will be Tiger Roll, who is bidding for a third consecutive Cross Country Chase win. He is probably the most famous horse in Britain right now, having won back-to-back Grand Nationals and moved alongside Red Rum in the pantheon of all-time greats. Owner Michael O’Leary famous described him as “a little rat of a thing”, but Tiger Roll has the heart of a lion and the stamina of an antelope.

The big story in 2020 will be his attempt to secure an unprecedented third straight victory, but first he is highly likely to head to Cheltenham for another Cross Country challenge.

He jumps really well, his stamina is superb and he never seems flustered, so another win for the little legend certainly looks on the cards. “He will go back to Cheltenham for the Cross Country race and then we'll go for the Randox Health Grand National,” said trainer Gordon Elliott, much to the delight of jumps racing fans. He is the favourite for the Cross Country and he should be able to pull off another famous victory.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015

cheltenham gold cup 2015
The 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by Betfred, featured 16 runners and had the distinction of being the first to be won by a novice since Captain Christy in 1974. The novice in question, on this occasion, was Coneygree, an 8-year-old gelding bred by the late John Oaksey and trained by his son-in-law Mark Bradstock at Lettcombe Bassett, near Wantage, Oxfordshire.

Prior to running in the Gold Cup, Coneygree had returned from a 671-day break to win all three starts over fences, including the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, making all and jumping well on each occasion. Toying with the idea of running Coneygree in the “Blue Riband” event, Bradstock said, “Touching wood, he is a very good jumper. He’s only had three runs [in steeplechases], but looks like he knows what he's doing, and he's not won over fences here [at Cheltenham] but has won twice over hurdles.”

Silviniaco Conti, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Ruby Walsh, was sent off 3/1 favourite to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup at the third time of asking. Nicholls’ charge had fallen at the third last when travelling well in 2013 and finished fourth, beaten 1¾ lengths, behind Lord Windermere in 2014, having only been headed in the final hundred yards or so. The Dom Alco gelding had 7lb and upwards in hand of his rivals on official figures, but otherwise the Gold Cup had a distinctly open look to it. Coneygree and Many Clouds were sent off joint second favourites at 7/1, with Holywell and Road To Riches joint third favourites at 8/1, and 10/1 bar.

In any event, regular jockey Nico De Boinville soon had Coneygree in his customary position at the head of affairs and, although drifting right up the famous Cheltenham hill, never really looked like being beaten. He stayed on very gamely in the closing stages to beat Djakadam by 1½ lengths with Road To Riches a further 2 lengths away in third. Bradstock said afterwards, “I’m numb, it’s wonderful. It won’t sink in for a while, but it’s great.”

As a footnote, perennial champion jockey A.P. McCoy, riding in his last Cheltenham Gold Cup, finished ninth on Carlingford Lough.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014

cheltenham gold cup 2014
The 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by Betfred, featured 13 runners and was a dramatic race with an historic, if controversial, finish. After two false starts, five horses, headed by 11/4 second favourite Silviniaco Conti, still held a chance jumping the final fence. However, on the run to the line, Silviniaco Conti veered right towards the centre of the track, while his nearest pursuer, 6/4 favourite Bobs Worth, became unbalanced after ducking away from the yellow jacket of member of security staff, handing the initiative to the horses that would eventually fill the first three places.

Lord Windermere, a largely unconsidered 20/1 chance, despite winning the RSA Chase at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, had been left with plenty to do after the third last fence, but made relentless progress under pressure to lead inside the final half a furlong and held on, all out, to beat On His Own by a short head. However, in his exhausted state, Lord Windermere hung badly right on the run-in, carrying On His Own and the eventual third, The Giant Bolster, with him towards the stands rail.

The resulting stewards’ inquiry, which was televised, lasted 15 minutes, adding to the melodrama, but the result was ultimately allowed to stand. Stewards’ secretary Paul Barton said afterwards, “There was interference, without a doubt, but on balance we believe it was insufficient to cause us to change the result.”

Victory for Lord Windermere was an historic achievement for trainer Jim Culloty. Ten years after riding Best Mate to the third of his Cheltenham Gold Cup victories, the Kerryman became one of just five men – the others being Danny Morgan, Fred Winter, Jonjo O’Neill and Pat Taaffe – to have ridden and subsequently trained a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. Lord Windermere had been completely outpaced in the early stages of the race and, commenting on the ride Davy Russell had given the horse, Culloty said, jokingly, “To be fair now, halfway round, Davy was getting the sack.” 

Speaking of the sack, Davy Russell rode Lord Windermere to victory just 10 weeks after losing his job as retained rider to Gigginstown House Stud and completed a 3,926/1 treble on the day.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Most Competitive Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is, of course, a ‘conditions’ race, in which entire horses and geldings carry the same weight, regardless of their previous form. Consequently, while it would be unfair the ‘Blue Riband’ contest ‘uncompetitive’ on occasions – it is, after all, the most valuable steeplechase of its kind run in Britain – only twice in its history has the number of runners ever approached the maximum allowed field of 24. With the festival just around the corner, which brings to mind these free bets from YesBets, let's take a look at the most competitive Cheltenham Gold Cup.

On the most recent occasion, in 2006, despite, or perhaps because of, the absence of Best Mate and Kicking King, 22 runners went to post. They were headed by Beef Or Salmon, trained by Michael Hourigan, who, despite being tailed off when pulled up behind Kicking King in the 2005 renewal, was officially the highest-rated horse in the field and was sent off 4/1 favourite.

According to the official handicapper, Beef Or Salmon had just 1lb in hand of the 169-rated Kingscliff, trained by the late Robert Alner, who started at 12/1, following two disappointing runs since beating Beef Or Salmon in the Betfair Chase at Haydock the previous November. Michael Hourigan’s 10-year-old likewise had 4lb in hand of the 166-rated Monkerhostin, trained by Philip Hobbs, who had only just failed when beaten a neck by Kicking King in the King George VI Chase, run at Sandown, the previous December, and started 13/2 second favourite.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup looked an unusually open race on paper and, from flagfall, was notable for its generous pace, thank in large part to several runners who liked to race on, or close to, the pace. Ollie Magern and Lord Of Illusion, both 33/1 outsiders, took the field along until the water jump on the circuit and, although only one horse came to grief – Celestial Gold, who unseated Timmy Murphy at the tenth fence – on going officially described as ‘good’, plenty of them found things happening just a shade too quickly.

The race was littered with costly mistakes and blunders. The well-backed Forget The Past, trained by the late Michael O’Brien, who had taken up the running at the end of the back straight, proceeded to spoil his chance by hitting the next fence and the fourth-last, while Cornish Rebel, trained by Paul Nicholls, was still well in contention when brought to a standstill by a shuddering blunder at the latter fence.

Meanwhile, another well-backed Irish raider, War Of Attrition, trained by Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris, put in an exemplary round of jumping, taking the lead at the bypassed third-last fence and staying on strongly to eventually beat Hedgehunter, trained by Willie Mullins, by 2½ lengths. The winning time was 6 minutes and 31.70 seconds, 5.30 seconds faster than the standard time for 3 miles 2½ furlongs on the New Course at Prestbury Park.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2013

cheltenham gold cup 2013
The 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by Betfred, featured nine runners and was won, in convincing style, by Bobs Worth, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty. In so doing, the 11/4 favourite was completing a notable Cheltenham Festival treble, having won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2011 and the RSA Chase in 2012.

Bobs Worth ran just twice during the 2012/13 season, readily accounting for Tidal Bay by 3¼ lengths in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on his seasonal reappearance in December before lining up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup 104 days later. His main opposition came from stable companion, and King George VI Chase winner, Long Run, who started 7/2 second favourite, and Betfair Chase winner Silviniaco Conti and Irish Hennessy Gold Cup winner Sir Des Champs, who were sent off at 4/1 joint third favourites.

Early on the second circuit, Long Run was in the lead, jumping well, although hotly pursued by Sir Des Champs in a close second. Silviniaco Conti fell at the third last, when still travelling well and, in so doing, hampered Bobs Worth, who was 8 lengths down at that point. Briefly, it appeared that Long Run and Sir Des Champs may have the race between them, but Bobs Worth came with a strong run approaching the second last, jumped the final fence in front and powered clear on the run-in to beat Sir Des Champs by 7 lengths, with Long Run a further 2¾ lengths in third.

Winning trainer Nicky Henderson had always expressed his concern that Bobs Worth would be better on good going, rather than the prevailing soft going. That sentiment was echoed by a nonetheless delighted Barry Geraghty, who said of Bobs Worth, “He’s a great attitude, he struggled on the ground but he kept fighting. I was hunting and I knew coming into the second last I would win. He's as game as a lion and he loves the job.”

Hailed by Henderson as “amazing, an absolute legend”, Bobs Worth was retired from racing in 2016 and has since enjoyed a happy retirement with Tracy Vigors at Hillwood Stud.