The A-Z of Cheltenham from our man on the spot
The story of day one of the Cheltenham Festival was all about the Willie Mullins ‘machine’ and the incredible four-timer that nearly was. True, it wasn’t quite the four-timer that was envisaged when Annie Power fell at the last in the Mares Hurdle, but Glens Melody was able to pick up the broken pieces for his trainer and let the bookies off the hook – a little.
It was curious watching Racing UK the next day to see the presenters going on about how the punters’ pockets were stuffed with cash and the confidence was high in the war with the bookies. You would have thought that it had been raining money. But the truth was that if you had backed the Mullins hotpots on Tuesday you would have returned 6.46 points; and, if you had backed the favourite in each race (I’m assuming that the RC team had done this by the way they were talking), that would have represented a loss on the day. Wednesday was better with the two favourites returning 8.13 points. Therefore, the total returns for favourites over the first two days was 14.59 points which was an ROI of 104%.
The last two days saw just two more winning favourites.There wasVautour on the Thursday at 6/4F and Peace And Co on Gold Cup day at 2/1F.A total of seven winning favourites out of 27 races,returning 20.09 points. That was a loss of 6.91 points (-26%) for an ROI of 74%. So the bookies won the day, as they inevitably do. But how did our ante-post bets in the big races get on? The results were as follows: Champion Hurdle:The New One – Lost (Larkspur Method Top Rated: FaugheenWON 4/5F)
Queen Mother Chase:Hidden Cyclone – Non-Runner
(Larkspur Method Top Rated:Dodging BulletsWON 9/2) World Hurdle:Whisper - Lost (Larkspur Method Top Rated: Lieutenant Colonel LOST) Gold Cup:Coneygree 14/1 –WON 7/1 (Larkspur Method Top Rated: Many Clouds LOST)
Therefore, backing the ante-post selections and then hedging with Larkspur Method top-rated runners gave a return of 22.3 points to level stakes of eight points. A profit of 14.3 points (+178.75%).
I attended the last two days of the Festival and these are my thoughts and memories of those:
C: is for Coneygree… not only because he was my ante-post pick but due to the brilliance of his performance. For a novice to take on the Gold Cup field from the first fence to the last and gallop them into submission was something to behold. Paul Nicholls said he wouldn’t win.
Even Champion trainers can be blinkered in their thinking. I woke on Cheltenham morning and looked out at the rain and this is what Coneygree’s connections had wanted. The weather forecast had said that the ground would come right for them and their winning hand had been dealt.
H: is for hats… I have been to Ladies’ Day at Glorious Goodwood and attended Royal Ascot on a number of occasions,
and the summer creations are more laughable than anything else.The Cheltenham ladies wear hats for warmth and comfort, but I couldn’t help thinking that Greta Garbo had been reincarnated a thousand times over; and, if you were a lady wearing a black floppy hat, you were definitely not alone.
E: is for expectation… The roar that greeted the start of the Gold Cup was matched only by that of the runners setting off in the opening race on Friday. And when Nicky Henderson’s Peace And Co got up to beat stablemate Top Notch in the JCB Triumph Hurdle you would have been forgiven for thinking that everybody in the Club Enclosure had backed the race favourite.
L:is for legend… AP McCoy got his last Festival winner aboard Alan King’s Uxizandre at 16/1; and while I wouldn’t want to deny a fellow Gooner’s last moment of Cheltenham glory, it was galling to be on the same trainer’s other runner: Balder Succes.
The same thing happened in reverse two races later. AP was on Kim Bailey’s Un Ace who finished unplaced; the winner was Bailey’s Darna at odds of 33/1!
T:is for trainer…Willie Mullins had his string in such incredible form it was frightening.Apart from the first day fourtimer that included wins for Douvan, Faugheen, Un De Sceaux and Glens Melody, there were four other winners including 25/1 shotWicklow Brave in the County Handicap Hurdle.
The eight wins were a record breaking performance and there will be many who will be making a not-so shortlist of Mullins horses for next year’s Festival.
E: is for Enda Bolger… was I the only person who thought that Nina Carberry was about to wallop French jockey Jonathan Plouganou after his mount Toutancarmont had carried out Quantitativeeasing in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase? After the agony, of what looked like a certain victory being snatched away, came the ecstasy when Nina was able to ride Bolger’s Off The Hinge to victory in the St James Place Foxhunter Chase.
N: is for Noble Endeavour… Gordon Elliott’s horse failed by a short-head to win the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle.
It wasn’t quite as close a call as that of Nicky Henderson’s Top Notch who ran stablemate Peace and Co to a neck.Both Noble Endeavour and Top Notch are aptly named for this Cheltenham business.
H: …is for history. Each race writes another chapter in the annals of Cheltenham’s rich history. Brilliant and spectacular.I have previously questioned jump racing’s pre-occupation with the Festival. Now, I get it.
A: is for Aidan Coleman…the jockey had ridden Houblon Des Obeaux in the Denman Chase where Venetia Williams’ horse was beaten 7 lengths by Coneygree. After the race the jockey jumped
off his mount and told Venetia Williams that Coneygree would win the Gold Cup. It would appear that the jockey is a better judge of form than a certain trainer, and we have Sue Bradstock to thank for that little snippet which I picked up from an interview on Racing UK.
She also said that they had kept Coneygree’s options open as he needed easy going to be seen at his best, but if there was rain forecast for Gold Cup day then they may as well take their chance. As the rain came, I remembered Coleman’s words and backed the Bradstock’s horse.
M: is for Many Clouds… Oliver Sherwood’s horse came out top of my ratings for the Gold Cup.
It was hard to be confident about the horse’s chances after his trainer was quoted as saying he would be happy if the horse finished among the places. As it turned out, Many Clouds ran in behind the eventual winner until the third last when he started to lose touch but plugged on gamely to finish in sixth place.
On the way home we passed Many Clouds’ horse box. We waved and, they waved back from the cab, smiling. Their horse was going home safe after running his heart out in the Gold Cup. It’s not just about the winners, they’re all heroes.
TheTop Chaser System
As we come to the end of the winter Jumps’ season, I would like to share this fiendishly simple winner finding method that I have introduced to the Top Racing Systems portfolio.
It isn’t rocket science and it will not find every winner,but it is a neat way of highlighting a potential winner in handicap chases.The rules:
• Handicap chases between 6 and 14 runners
• Award points to the top three horses in the betting as per the Larkspur Method Form Score (Curtis Rating System) • The top-rated horse is the selection • Check: is the horse the top-rated of all the runners in the race? • Check: is the horse a course winner? • Check: did the horse win last time out?
If you are not familiar with the Curtis Rating System,simply add up the horses’ last three form figures i.e.451 = 10 points. The horse with the lowest number is the selection.
The overall results are 16 winners from 57 selections 28% for an ROI of 98%. November was a winning month and at the time of writing we are looking at 3 winners from 9 runners in March (31%) for an ROI of 131%.As I said,it is not perfect, but it does work after a fashion.
The Flat is back next month and we can start to look at our portfolio of systems that can hopefully get us ahead on the level.
Until next month – Happy Racing!