Cheltenham Festival: Flatlining

Day four and Gold Cup day has arrived, but not before a brutal day three. Can the final days selections bring us back from the dead?

Have you made your list?

Have you checked it twice?

Did you go to bed early just so this morning would arrive quicker?

Yes it took an age to get here, but finally Gold Cup day is here!


And then it’ll be gone again just as quickly.

Yes friends and colleges you haven’t seen will greet you with “how was your Cheltenham” over the next week.

There is also the welcome distraction that is the Grand National Festival in under a months time.

But for the most part, all we will be left with after tomorrow is some great memories, new hero’s, new enemies, old hero’s who we will see no more and year long questions like “will Samcro win next years Champion Hurdle.”

But that’s what makes Cheltenham so festival. Unlike flat racing, who’s season seems to go for an eternity and has numerous championship races spread across it, the Festival represents the event all owners, trainers and jockey’s are aiming for; and for us punters, its the one we want to call right.

So to all of you reading, may I wish you a Merry Cheltenham and hope all your Gold Cup dreams come true. 

Day three review:

What started well, quickly turned to shit. There is no hiding that.

Shattered Love was a pleasing winner at 4/1, but things quickly unravelled after that.

Forza Milan was Forzaless for most of the second circuit and came nowhere.

Cue Card went in similar fashion and surely that’s retirement for him? It may have been foolish to side with Cue Card, but to my surprise the alternative selection of Un De Sceaux was also beaten, with Balko Des Flos simply trouncing him.

Further defeats for the picks of Sam Spinner, King’s Socks (5th) and Sugar Baron meant the win for odds on Laurina didn’t count for much in the end.

But with one day left, we might as well have a look at day four, hadn’t we?

Day four picks…


13:30 JCB Triumph Hurdle   2m 1f


  • 19 of the last 24 winners won last time out
  • Irish have won 3 of the last 5 runnings
  • French-bred have filled 8 of the last 9 places (last 3 runnings)
  • 11 of the last 13 came from the top 4 in the betting
  • Respect Henderson (6 winners), Nicholls, and King-trained runners
  • 7 of the last 14 first ran over hurdles by November (5 of the last 6 by mid-Nov)
  • 10 of the last 12 winners returned 13/2 or shorter
  • The Spring Juvenile Hurdle is a good guide
  • 5 of the last 9 winners had run in France before
  • Nicky Henderson has trained 6 winners of the race

We start the day with a very hot favourite in Apple’ s Shakira, who also fits the trends nicely. Henderson trained, this French bred filly started out with a hurdles win in France and has gone to win all three of her races in Britain at Cheltenham over this distance.

Given these credentials its difficult not to argue the 6/4 currently on offer is still generous value (she opened 9/4) and that this a race that should provide a good start to the punters against the bookies.

The main danger to the favourite looks to be Stormy Ireland, trained by Mullins, with the race card suggesting Noel Fehily will take the ride (interesting!).

She’s had one race for the stable, where she won a maiden hurdle by 58 lengths, making it very difficult to judge how good she is.

Suggestions: My tips don’t lie, Apple’ s Shakira is the one to be on.

apples shak

14:10 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle   2m 1f


  • The Irish have won 8 of the last 11 runnings
  • 4 of the last 10 winners ran in that season’s Hurdle (Leopardstown)
  • 11 of the last 12 winners were rated in the 130’s
  • 6 of the last 10 winners returned 20/1 or bigger
  • 5 of the last 9 winners had run in 6 or less hurdles races
  • 9 of the last 12 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • 10 of the last 12 winners were priced in double-figures
  • 10 of the last 14 winners began their careers on the flat
  • Look for Mullins, Martins & Nicholls-trained runners
  • Respect the Imperial Cup (Sandown Park) winner
  • Ruby Walsh has ridden 4 winners in the last 14 years
  • 10 of the last 17 winners came from the top 5 in the betting
  • 12 of the last 14 winners were 1st or 2nd season hurdlers
  • 9 of the last 11 winners DIDN’T win last time out
  • Paul Nicholls is 4 from 26 (+20pts)
  • Willie Mullins is 4 from 25 (+54pts)

Lots of contenders here, including Duca De Thaix, Flying Tiger and favourite Meri Devie, but its a Mullins second string that has caught my eye.

Whiskey Sour started his career on the flat, winning 4 times out of 13 races and is currently rated 98 in that sphere.

He can also boast being 2 out of 3 in his hurdle career, with his defeat coming in a hot Leopardstown novice. In front of him that day were Samcro, Duc Des Genievres and Paloma Blue who have all gone on to perform well in graded races at the festival.

Indeed Paloma Blue is now rated 150, compared to the 141 that Whiskey Sour will run off tomorrow, suggesting he’ll have a great chance of this weight.

Suggestion: Mix me up a Whiskey Sour

whiskey sour

14:50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle   3m


  • 8 of the last 13 winners had run at Cheltenham over hurdles before
  • 8 of the last 13 came from the top 5 in the betting
  • 9 of the last 13 winner ran 47 days (or more) ago
  • 11 of the last 13 had run in a race over 3m
  • 10 of the last 12 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old
  • 11 of the last 12 winners finished in the top 3 last time out
  • 4 of the last 12 favourites won
  • Jonjo O’Neill (2) and the Irish (4) have won 7 of the last 12

The key to this race appears to lie with Nicky Henderson, given three of his runners currently sit inside the top four of the betting.

And although Ok Corral has fair claims, it would appear the choice lies between the top two of Chef Des Obeaux and Santini.

Chef Des Obeaux’s romp in heavy conditions at Haydock in February is hard to ignore, but on a trends basis Santini ticks more boxes, including having that all important course form which makes him the selection.

Suggestion: Trust Nico to deliver Santini to the winners enclosure.


15:30 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase   3m 2½f


  • 15 of the last 18 winners ran in the Lexus or King George that season
  • 15 of the last 17 finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 12 of the last 17 had won or placed 2nd at the Festival before
  • 15 of the last 17 winners hailed from the top 3 in the betting
  • 16 of the last 17 winners had raced no more than 12 times over fences
  • 9 of the last 10 winners ran 3 or less times that season
  • 15 of the last 21 winners were bred in Ireland
  • 9 of the last 12 winners won last time out
  • 5 of the last 12 favourites won
  • ALL of the last 18 winners were aged 9 or younger
  • 9 winners since 2000 HADN’T run in the calendar year

At the time of writing a field of 18 are poised to take the course for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

All racing on level weights of 11st 10lbs, the race rates as the ultimate test for the top chaser and has seen greats such as Best Mate, Denman, Kauto Star, Bobs Worth (“come on Bob, come on Bob”) and last years champion Sizing John who was sadly ruled out of the running in the lead up to the festival.

The horse likely to be on everyone’s lips tomorrow is Might Bite for Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville and for solid reasons.

He is a mighty looking horse, who oozes power and attitude, has great form and trends credentials, having won last years RSA Chase and the King George at Kempton and is the top rated of all runners.

mite bite

It therefore makes it a bit of a surprise to see a horse now ahead of him in the market, given Might Bite has long been the anti-post favourite, but maybe that is down to the conditions.

Our Duke, trained by Mrs John Harrington and ridden by Robbie Power won the Irish National over 3m 5f so it would appear punters are latching on to the stamina angle, given the ground is likely to remain testing tomorrow.

For me, I’m not entirely convinced that is the best angle to take and you could argue that Native River who one the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow in 2016 would have similar claims to that of Our Duke, with the advantage of having run in the Gold Cup last year, finishing third.

Certainly at the prices, I’m not really sold on either of these over Mite Bite, so if I was inclined to take on Mite Bite (and that is something I’ve not fully decided upon yet), I’d prefer to side with Road to Respect, currently priced around 12/1 and appears to be a better fit to my idea of a potential Gold Cup winner.

Winner of the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown in December, he won the Grade 3 Handicap Chase over 2m 4f at Cheltenham last year and shown strong form throughout the season.

It is clear that trainer Noel Meade has mapped out a course across the season that brings the horse here with the best possible chance to do itself justice and hopefully take the Gold Cup back to Ireland.

And given the way the festival has gone, with the Irish trainers dominating British trainers by 15-6 going into the last day, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Irish take the biggest prize of the festival with them as well.

Suggestion: A very, very, tough call.

Might Bite is the standout contender, so it will need an off day, freak accident or a superb performance to beat him.

For my money, the one in the field that has the potential of putting in that superb performance would be Road to Respect.

If forced to decide now, I’d probably side with Might Bite, but I will be looking to make my choice as late as possible to gather those crucial bits of information as the day unfolds.

road to respect 1

16:10 St James’ Place Foxhunter Chase   3m 2½f


  • 25 of the last 27 winners were aged under 11 years-old
  • 24 of the last 32 won last time out
  • 7 of the last 9 winners came from the first 4 in the betting
  • 26 of the last 29 started out in point-to-point races
  • 10 of the last 12 winners ran 34 days or less ago
  • Respect the Irish runners (won 6 of last 7)
  • 5 of the last 6 winners ran in the Leopardstown Inn Hunters’ Chase
  • 9 of the last 12 winners were aged 8-10 years-old
  • 7 of the last 9 winners returned 15/2 or shorter
  • 9 of the last 10 winners finished in the top 3 last time out

The artillery available to Paul Nicholl’s is not what it once was, but he appears to have two live chances to get on the board here, with last seasons runner up Wonderful Charm and hunter chase newcomer Virak.

Both have clearly been aimed at this race following the changes to Foxhunter chase rules (preventing Hunter Chasers switching to handicaps during the season) and fit the trends nicely.

Top rated and favourite Burning Ambition looks to have an excellent chance on form and Foxrock deserves a mention as well.

However, could it be a case of the one that got away for the aforementioned Nicholls, in the shape of Caid Du Berlais?

Turning out for Mrs Rose Loxton and to be riden by the excellent William Biddick, this 9yr olds recent racing has been in point to points, winning three on the spin.

This may be a marked step up competition wise, but if any where near the performance of his past best, he would look to have an excellent chance.

Suggestion: Not a race to go deep in; Caid Du Berlais 

caid du berlais

16:50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle   2m 4½f


  • All 9 winners were 2nd season-hurdlers
  • Irish have won 4 of the last 7 (all making handicap debuts)
  • 27 of the 29 win and place horses were 1st or 2nd season hurdlers
  • Look for Henderson, Nicholls, Mullins, Elliot-trained horses
  • 7 of the 9 winners were placed in the top 4 last time out
  • 4 of the 9 winners won last time out
  • 7 of the 9 winners were rated 133-139
  • 6 of the 9 winners returned at a double-figure price (7 of the last 9 were 16/1 or less)
  • 5 and 6 year-old have won ALL 9 runnings
  • Look for jockeys that have ridden 20+ winners
  • Willie Mullins is 3 from 11 runners in the race (won 3 of the last 7 runnings)
  • Respect any Gigginstown House Stud-owned runners (3 winners, 3 places)
  • Paul Nicholls has won the race twice in the last 5 years

The fat lady is gargling, it’s almost the end and by now most people are interested in drinking, so if you’re looking for a tip at this point you can’t have had a good day.

Burrows Saint caught the eye, mainly because this Mullins runner has Lizzie Kelly booked to ride, but the gelding also fits a lot of the trends.

Blow by Blow is the sole Gigginstown entry and comes into calculations, alongside Henderson’s Diese Des Bieffes and Flawless Escape for Gordon Elliott.

However, perhaps the answer to this race lies with the handicap debutante Early Doors, trained by Joseph Patrick O’Brien, son of the monster flat trainer Aidan O’Brien.

It’s also worth noting Early Doors beat Meri Devie (who runs in the 14:10) in a Naas Grade 3 Hurdle in November.

Suggestion: Get on Early Doors before the price slides even further.

Early Doors Wexford 99

17:30 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase   2m ½f


  • 15 of the last 18 winners carried 11st or less
  • 12 of the last 14 winners had run at the Festival before
  • 6 of the last 14 winners ran in the previous renewal
  • Irish have won 3 of the last 5 runnings
  • 7 of the last 8 winners came from outside the top 5 in the betting
  • 10 of the last 14 winners were aged 8 or older
  • Henderson, Nicholls, King-trained horses are respected
  • Keep the Irish horses on your side (won 3 of the last 5)
  • Respect JP McManus-owned horses (3 winners, 8 placed)
  • The last 7 winners were rated at least 138
  • 5 year-olds have a good record (from few runners of that age that have run)
  • Novices have won 5 of the last 9 runnings
  • 6 of the last 7 winners were rated between 140-147
  • 5 of the last 7 winners carried 10-11 or more in weight
  • 17 of the last 18 winners had run no more than 12 times over fences

The final race.

Do you need this one to save your day?

Well don’t. Don ‘ t Touch It. 

There is no Top Gamble. No Three Stars bet to return you to the black. This is not the time to be a Born Survivor, it is not a race that will be The Game Changer.

Save your crumpled fiver and a fist full of change and come up with something else, Some Plan that heralds a Bright New Dawn.

Maybe a holiday would do the trick? A weekend at the Eastlake, an excursion over the Gino Trail? How about aboard and to France where you can become all Le Prezien, or to give a leftfield idea, Dresden – I’ve heard its nice this year.

But as I say, put aside your Vaniteux and leave this race Don ‘ t Touch It… unless you see a sign somewhere?


Agree or disagree with these selections? Why not tell share what you think in the comments below?

Be Gamble Aware Link:
Link to Racing Post race cards:
Trends quoted are courtesy of:


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