Cheltenham Festival Day 3, Friday 18th March 2016: Racing Consultants Value Selections

Cheltenham Day 1

Betting Strategy: 5 Backs & 4 Lays

Weather: Becoming sunny mid-morning, and no rain anticipated. Max temperature 12C.

Going: Good to Soft (advance)

Racing on the new course for the first time this week with the ground expected to ride fresher than for the first two days. Prolonged sunshine for the first time also means we should have genuinely quick ground by the end of the day. The new course is slightly longer in the straights than the old course and suits stayers slightly better as a result.  The track also tends to favour front runners, especially on Thursday, as it is narrower in configuration than it will be on Friday when a fresh strip is kept back for the Gold Cup.

Thistlecrack is one of the meeting’s bankers in the World Hurdle, but most interest comes from the Ryanair where Vautour runs instead of the Gold Cup, a decision which has caused much controversy. This stems from comments made by owner Rich Ricci on the preview circuit that he would either run in the Gold Cup or miss the meeting altogether.


*All times AEDT

R1 JLT Novices’ Chase Grade 1 2m 3f 198y – 12:30am

Race Analysis & Key Trial Races

Best of the obvious trials for this in Ireland have been won either by Douvan, who took the Arkle, or the injured Killultagh Vic. Although Black Hercules was in the process of winning the Grade 2 Ten Up at Navan when falling at the last. Bristol de Mai has fared best in the traditional UK prep races winning the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at Sandown in good style.


Major Players

3. Bristol de Mai: Youngest of the field but already a bold jumper. Has improved throughout the season having been beaten by Garde La Victoire on chase debut. Made all to beat As De Mee at Sandown and front running tactics suit him well. On the other hand drying ground is a negative for him and he could do with a drop of rain.

4. Garde La Victoire: Beat Bristol de Mai on chase bow and just got the better of Arkle third Fox over two miles here in November. Another whose best recent form has come with plenty of give in the ground, although has acted perfectly well on faster earlier in his career. Arguably best at slightly shorter but will probably stay on balance.

10. Zabana: Impressive on his chase debut at Leopardstown, he seemed to hate the heavy ground when flopping behind Outlander there last time. A fine second in Coral Cup at this meeting last year and is the one among the market principals who will most appreciate drying ground. Overpriced at around 14.0.

2. Black Hercules: Has been switched to this trip having originally had the 4m National Hunt Chase as his target and is yet another who appears to be a mudlark. Unlike the pair mentioned above he doesn’t have Graded form at this trip and shorter, and is the one who will be most inconvenienced by the combination of trip and ground. Looks appalling value at 8.0 in the win market and expected to be unplaced.


Betting Strategy

Back on Betfair BACK (Win) Zabana > 14.0 for 2 units

Laying on Betfair LAY (Place) Black Hercules < 3.0 for 5 units


R3 Ryanair Chase Grade 1 2m 4f 166y – 1:50am

Race Analysis & Key Trial Races 

None of the main contenders in last year’s race are around to try again, but Vautour won the JLT over the same course and distance a year ago which looks a major pointer to this contest. The Ascot Chase is another key trial, although easy winner Silviniaco Conti (beat Dynaste) misses this for the Grand National. The Irish Gold Cup, in which Valseur Lido was leading when unseating at the last and looking sure to finish in front Road To Riches is also likely to prove highly significant.


Major Players

13. Vautour: Has blown this race apart now that he’s been switched from the Gold Cup and he’s by far the best horse in the race. If there is a negative about the odds-on favourite it’s that he’s clearly not considered capable of winning the Gold Cup in current form, which makes it hard to back him for any Grade 1 race. He’s a probable drifter with that uncertainty hanging over him.

9. Road To Riches: Described as being “too slow” for this race by his trainer, which is no great endorsement, but Noel Meade was angling to run his star in the Gold Cup. He didn’t look slow when winning over this trip at Clonmel in November. Would have been beaten by Valseur Lido in last month’s Irish Gold Cup but seemed to find the test too much there. Will find the shorter trip and forecast ground more to his liking. Looks at 6.0 chance on paper if doubts about favourite factored in.

12. Valseur Lido: Placed in JLT over course and distance a year ago behind Vautour and set to go close when unseating in Grade 1 last time, but that came at three miles and he did look short of pace here last year. His jumping record looks poor after falling in King George at Kempton.

1. Al Ferof: Made Festival debut in 2010 so in the veteran stage now. Everything was set up for him when winning Grade 2 at Huntingdon on his return. Good third in the King George since but often starts the season well only to run out of steam and was well beaten in this race previously. Hard to see him winning despite his lofty rating.


Betting Strategy

Back on Betfair BACK (Win) Road To Riches >8.0 for 2 units

Back on Betfair BACK (Place) Road To Riches > 2.8 for 5 units


R4 Ryanair World Hurdle Grade 1 2m 7f 213y – 2:30am

Race Analysis & Key Trial Races

Thistlecrack claimed the key trial, The Cleeve Hurdle and also won the Long Walk at Ascot and Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury to complete a clean sweep of top staying hurdles in the UK through the winter. Cole Harden won this race last year and previous winners have an excellent record. Alpha des Obeaux won the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park to establish himself as the best of the Irish.


Major Players

11. Thistlecrack: Has established himself as the new star in this division winning all the key trials and hasn’t been extended on last two starts. Only been racing at this trip since last April and is a real prospect for further improvement, making him look one of the best bets of the entire week. A bet at 2.0 but history suggests he will trade bigger close to the off.

5. Cole Harden: Made all the running to win this a year ago having been well beaten in the run-up, and has probably shown better form on balance this time around. Needs quick ground so expect him to bounce back to his best. Unlikely to be gifted such an easy lead however and may come up a little short in what looks a stronger race.

1. Alpha des Obeaux: Has plenty to find on bare form but in the process of pushing Thistlecrack when falling at Aintree last spring and not out of the first two in eight starts either side of that mishap. Beat some good yardsticks at Gowran and trainer rates him certain to improve on quicker ground. Solid place chance.

3. Aux Ptits Soins: Nominated as the most likely in his yard to win a Gold Cup and clearly a huge talent, but not seen on track for a year having had a series of injuries and illnesses. It would be a monumental feat of training to get him to hit the frame, let alone win here. Not proven beyond 2m5f and must be taken on at less than 3.0 in the Place market. Could struggle badly.


Betting Strategy

Back on Betfair BACK (Win) Thistlecrack > 2.5 for 10 units

Laying on Betfair LAY (Place) Aux Ptits Soins <3.0 for 10 units


R5 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Grade 3 Handicap 2m 4f 166y – 3:10am

Race Analysis & Key Trial Races

Another of Cheltenham’s wide-open handicap chases with winners coming through a variety of routes. Previous course and distance form is a positive so that is a positive for last year’s winner Darna, as well as previous Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Johns Spirit, who has attracted ante-post support. Fingal Bay and Salubrious are former Festival winners over hurdles. Horses able to race handily have been favoured in recent times.


Major Players

8. Johns Spirit: Winner of the 2013 Paddy Power Gold Cup here and has slipped to a tempting handicap mark after a series of moderate runs this term. There have been excuses for him in the shape of unsuitable ground and poor stable form. Yard had a winner and a second on Tuesday and quick ground gives him every chance. He is however arguably better suited by the old course.

16. Fingal Bay: Winner of Pertemps Final at the Festival in 2014 and is another who would appreciate drying conditions. On a very fair mark on the pick of his form but does stay a fair bit further. It’s possible that he’ll lack the tactical speed to deliver a challenge unless the pace is very fast.

15. Stilletto: Unexposed novice who has improved of late winning easily in the mud at Leicester last time. Both ground and tactics he is beholden to are arguably unsuitable and powerful yard has a poor record over fences here in recent times. Should be 20.0 or bigger in our opinion and a heavy place lay in a competitive race.

23. Full Shift: An enigma with a solid win at Kempton sandwiched by shocking efforts on softer ground. It appears that he needs a quick surface and further than two miles, so can have no excuses in these conditions. Difficult to know what to expect on balance but short enough in the betting. A big effort would be no great surprise.


Betting Strategy

Laying on Betfair LAY (Place) Stilletto < 3.5 for 8 units



R6 Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle Grade 2 2m 179y – 3:50am

Race Analysis & Key Trial Races

The only horse to get a mention in discussions here has been Limini from the all-conquering Willie Mullins team. Like many of Mullins’ novices her form is not exactly outstanding, but she’s reported to have been well tried at home and many believe her to be impossible to beat based on that home reputation. It’s worth pointing out that most of the Irish mares who had other options have taken those up, suggesting they are running scared.


Betting Strategy

2. Limini: Winner of both her starts for Willie Mullins eight months apart, the latest in a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse in January where she didn’t always jump particularly well but seemed to win with plenty in hand. Her reputation precedes her and with Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag already winning here for the same connections, it would be a very brave man who opposed her. Proven on good ground on the Flat so conditions no problem. We are against the second favourite and would make her closer to 1.6 than her current odds.

3. Smart Talk: Officially the best of these according to the handicapper, but she’s been kept very busy with five runs since October. Battled well to win a Grade 2 at Doncaster last time. That contest was all about stamina and she will get three miles in time so there must be a worry about how she will cope at Cheltenham. She does have a tendency to snatch at her hurdles which could see her in trouble here. A heavy place lay if 2.0 or shorter.

1. Bloody Mary: Multiple winner of AQPS (non thoroughbred) races in France and has won both starts over hurdles including on debut for Nicky Henderson in February. Has form on heavy and on good to firm ground and looks the better of the trainer’s pair on racecourse evidence, despite being described as “tiny” at a recent media event. Likely to go well and looks main threat to the odds-on favourite.


Betting Strategy

Back on Betfair BACK (Win) Limini > 1.9 for 8 units

Laying on Betfair LAY (Place) Smart Talk < 2.0 for 8 units