Welcome to the BetBright STATZONE, where we give you the stats and you make the decisions!
Onto Thursday and the halfway stage of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival – it’s a day that many feel is the quietist of the four as racegoers and bookmakers take stock depending on how the opening few days have gone, but we’ve still some high-class action.
We start with a fairly new race to the Festival – the JLT Novices’ Chase – another chance to see some future stars on show and a contest trainer Willie Mullins has a great record in, while we’ve also the ultra-competitive Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle, the Kim Muir Chase and Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate, but the main events on day three is the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase take top billing.
Did you know that 10 of the last 13 Stayers’ Hurdle winners won last time out?
The Jessie Harrington-trained Supasundae, who don’t forget landed the Coral Cup last term, currently heads the market for the Stayers Hurdle, while the British challenge will come from the vastly-improved Sam Spinner.
The Ryanair Chase always attracts a top field, including last year’s winner – Un De Sceaux – so he’s sure to be very popular with punters as he looks to win his third Festival race. With the Ryanair Chase run over 2m5f, this race is generally high-class horses that don’t quite stay the Gold Cup trip and find also things happening a bit too fast in the 2m Champion Chase. Again, loads to look forward to.
So, as always, we’ve got it all covered here on STATZONE with all the key trends, plus our verdict (these to follow), on ALL of the DAY THREE 2018 Cheltenham Festival races – we’re confident these big-race trends will point you in the direction of a few winners, or at least help narrow down some of races with huge fields – plus, nearer the time we’ll also be adding in our verdicts on each race. Let’s continue!
CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL DAY THREE:
Thursday 15th March 2018
13:30 JLT Novices’ Chase 2m 4f
2017 Winner: YORKHILL (6/4 fav)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Ruby Walsh
- 6 of the 7 winners were Irish-trained
- Willie Mullins has trained 4 of the last 7 winners
- 5 of the last 7 winners had won a Graded Chase before
- All 7 past winners had run at the Festival before
- 6 of the 7 winners came from the top 4 in the betting
- 5 of the last 7 winners came from the top 2 in the betting
- 6 of the last 7 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
- 6 of the last 7 winners returned 7/1 or shorter
- 4 of the last 7 winners won last time out
- 4 of the last 7 winners ran at Leopardstown last time out
- 6 of the last 7 winners ran between 47-54 days ago
- 7 year-olds have won 5 of last 7 renewals
- Be careful of horses rated 146 or less
- Just one British-trained runner so far
- The top-rated horse is just 1 from 7
- Since 1990 all Festival Novice Chase winners have been aged 8 or younger
- 3 winning favourites in 7 runnings (1 co)
- Just 1 of the last 7 winners had less than 3 career chase starts
- No winner had been off for more than 54 days
STATZONE VERDICT: Top Irish trainer – Willie Mullins – has targeted this race with success in 4 of the last 7 years and he looks to have another strong hand again. Yorkhill won the prize for him 12 months ago and in Invitation Only he’ll have a horse running for the same connections. This 7 year-old sets the standard after running third behind Monalee at Leopardstown in the Flogas Novices’ Chase in February. Before that he’d caught the eye winning over this trip at Navan and Punchestown. We can expect the drop back slightly in trip to be a plus after getting run out of things over 2m5f last time, while with just 9 career runs there should be more to come. 6 of the last 7 winners of this race have been Irish-trained too, while 7 year-olds have won 5 of the last 7 runnings. However, I would be a tad worried about getting up the hill after seeing him get tired over 2m5f last time out. He’s certainly a big player, especially with the Mullins record in the race, but if he gets into a battle with something up the hill might just get outstayed – we’ll see! From the British-trained runners the Gary Moore-trained Benatar has done little wrong this season – winning all three chase starts. He had a slog to beat Finian’s Oscar at Ascot back in December, but connections have given him plenty of time to get over that. He’ll come here fresher than most and certainly looks a better chaser (rated 149) than he was a hurdler (rated 130 hurdles). It will be his first run at Cheltenham, but there is no reason why it won’t suit. He looks a big contender to Invitation Only but it might be interesting that no winner of this race has come here off a break of more than 54 days – Benatar’s last run was 83 days ago. Going back to FINIAN’S OSCAR (e/w) and with the Colin Tizzard yard in much better form now then this 6 year-old would be foolish to ignore. He’s had a wind-op since his last run and the word is he’s been schooling great since. He’ll also sport the cheekpieces here and being a proven winner at the track over fences then if the vibes are right then there is a lot to like about this tough campaigner. TERREFORT looks to have a big say too. This Nicky Henderson runner has won both starts since coming over from France and looked to have more in the locker than the neck winning margin from last time. He’s had plenty of experience in France and won on Heavy ground which is also a huge plus – certainly one to have on your radar with Daryl Jacob riding. The other UK runner to note is Modus and to me he looks to have a fair chance too. This Paul Nicholls-trained 8 year-old was a 156-rated hurdler and having won 3-from-4 over fences has certainly translated that form to the bigger obstacles. Yes, he took a tumble at Exeter two starts ago, but that track doesn’t always suit horses and he quickly bounced back with an easy win at Kempton. He was a fair 6th in the Coral Cup last season and has plenty of track experience. In fact, this will be his fifth Festival and his 7th run here at Prestbury Park. He won a bumper here back in 2014 and has run some decent races in defeat since. Winning form in soft ground is a plus but if it came up heavy he’s raced on it twice and been beaten both times.
14:10 Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle 3m
2017 Winner: PRESENTING PERCY (11/1)
Trainer – Patrick Kelly
Jockey – Davy Russell
- 7 of the last 12 winners were aged 8 or older
- The last 8 winners started their careers in bumpers (6) or points (2)
- 10 of the last 17 winners were from outside the top 5 in the betting
- The last 7 winners were rated 138 or higher
- 8 of the last 11 winners were rated between 132-142 (inc)
- 9 of the last 13 winners had won over at least 2m7f
- 8 of the last 11 winners had run 10 or less times over hurdles before
- 8 of the last 17 winners won their last race
- 3 of the last 9 winners finished in the first 5 in the Betfair Hurdle (Haydock)
- Look for Jonjo O’Neill, Twiston-Davies, Mullins and Pipe-trained runners
- Respect JP McManus-owned horses
- Just 3 Irish-trained winners in the last 12 runnings
- Avoid horses with less than 6 runs over hurdles
- 5 year-olds have won just once since 1973
- French-bred horses are currently on a run of 0-76
- All horses rated 150+ since 2000 have failed to finish in the top 2
- 1 winning favourite in last 12 years
- Paul Nicholls is currently 0 from 17 (Two 2nds in the last 4 runnings)
- Horses aged 7 or younger and priced in single-figures are just 1 from 34
STATZONE VERDICT: Another big field, so no harm having 3 or 4 going for you here as the prices are sure to allow it. Yes, it’s unlikely we’ll see another Presenting Percy (won the race 12 months ago) this year – but you never know and, as always, it’s a super-tough renewal. With ALL of the last 7 winners rated 138 or higher this is a decent stat to have on your side. Trainers, Jonjo O’Neill, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Willie Mullins and David Pipe are yards that have done well in this in the past but, in contrast, the Paul Nicholls camp are currently 0-from 17 – they have had two seconds in the last 4 runnings though! Another interesting stat is that horses aged 7 or younger that were also priced in at a single-figure (so well-fancied) are only 1 from 34 in recent years. With that in-mind the Gordon Elliott-trained Glenroe and the Hobbs runner Louis’ Vac Pouch – who have both been well supported for the race – are overlooked. We’ve also only seen one winning favourite in the last 12 years. It’s often a race JP McManus likes to target too so we can expect a flurry of his green and gold silks in the race, but one of those that stands out is the Edward Harty-trained SORT IT OUT (e/w). Yes, the yard has been a bit quiet this season, but a winner here would certainly make up for that. This 9 year-old is one of the older runners in the race, but with 7 of the last 12 winners aged 8 or older that’s not a worry. This horse has won 4 times from 15 hurdles starts but it was the way ran he improved over 3m last time at Punchestown that caught the eye. He ran on well to take third that day and with the stiff Cheltenham finish there could be even more to come. He has also tasted the Festival in the past as some might recall him finishing 2nd in the 2015 County Hurdle. Softer ground is also fine and with 8 of the last 11 winners rated between 132-142 this horse also fits in here off a mark of 141. If getting in, WHO DARES WINS (e/w), is another I’ll be playing here. This 6 year-old is a decent flat performer that – don’t forget – was third in the Coral Cup 12 months ago. He’s only 3lbs higher here but this looks a slightly easier option for him. He’s not been seen since November so comes here fresh and well, while if the ground remains desperate then he’s got winning form in heavy. The Organist is another interesting McManus runner from the Oliver Sherwood yard, who can be expected to be better for a few months off, however, it’s a horse that finished second to him this season – FORZA MILAN (e/w) that also stands out. This Jonjo O’Neill-trained 6 year-old has only had 7 runs and would have had this race as a target all season. He ran the fancied Louis’ Vac Pouch to 2 ¼ lengths at Aintree in November, and backed that up with a solid second at Newbury next time. As mentioned it’s a race the loves – he actually had his first Festival runner in it in 1991! He’s since gone onto win the prize in 2003, 2004 and most recently in 2013 with Holywell. Soft ground is fine, while it’s interesting he’s not been out since early December so he can head here fresh and also protect his handicap mark of 138 – we’ll see. Of the rest, I was impressed with CALETT MAD (e/w) last time out at Musselburgh. The word is that he’s come out of that race well and being a proven course winner at the track then this Nigel Twiston-Davies runner looks value of those at bigger odds.
14:50 Ryanair Chase 2m 5f
2017 Winner: UN DE SCEAUX (1st 7/4 fav)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Ruby Walsh
- 18 of the 25 winners and runners-up had won at the course before
- 4 of the last 5 winners were 2nd season chasers
- 9 of the last 10 had won at Cheltenham previously
- 9 of the last 10 winners had won a Grade 1 Chase before
- The King George VI Chase is often a good guide (7 from 25)
- The previous year’s renewal is often a good guide
- 10 of the last 12 winners returned 6/1 or shorter
- 5 of the last 6 winners were aged 7 or 8 years-old
- 9 of the last 10 winners were rated 161+
- 4 of the last 13 winners were placed in the top 3 in the Ascot Chase last time out
- 10 of last 13 winners were fav or 2nd fav
- Trainers Jonjo O’Neill, David Pipe & Nicky Henderson are respected
- Respect first time head-gear (2 from 7)
- 7 of the last 10 winners DIDN’T win last time out
- The Irish are 2 from 40 runners in this race
- Avoid horses priced 7/1 or bigger
- Avoid horses aged 11 or older
- Just one winner rated 160 or below
- Just 3 of the last 10 won last time out
- All winners ran 4 or less times that season
- No winner was having their Festival debut
STATZONE VERDICT: Cue Card is a nice addition to this year’s Ryanair Chase after connections decided to swerve the Gold Cup. This 12 year-old was as good as ever last time too when second in the Ascot Chase and being a past winner of this race (2013) then he’d be foolish to overlook. If he did win, he’d probably get one of the best receptions of the week, but although I think he’ll run well the fact remains he’s not getting any younger. He’s also won just one of his last seven races and been second four times, but you have to go back a long way to find the last 12 year-old winner of a Grade One at the Cheltenham Festival – the 1960’s I think. The horse that beat Cue Card last time was the Ruth Jefferson-trained Waiting Patiently but this improving chaser will NOT run in now, with connections preparing him for Aintree next month where he’s sure to be very popular. The Jefferson camp could still have a chance though with the consistent Cloudy Dream, but this horse seems to prefer to finish second (last 4 times) than win so could be one for the placepot players! Therefore, with no Waiting Patiently everything looks in place for last year’s winner UN DE SCEAUX to go in again. This popular 10 year-old ran a blinder from the front to beat Sub Lieutenant by 1 ½ lengths 12 months ago and after winning twice this season, including the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, he’ll head here again in tip-tip order. Those against him might look at his age (10), while despite winning by 7 lengths last time didn’t really impress. Having said that, he’s never really been a flashy sort – more of a horse that will grind things out or do it the hard way. This will be his fourth Festival while with overall form figures at the track that read 1-2-1-1 then he clearly loves this place too. It goes without saying that the Gigginstown House Stud would love to win this race being Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary sponsors the race, but they are yet to win it. They often fire a lot of bullets, with Sub Lieutenant, who was second last year, looking a worthy outsider. For me though, their BALKO DES FLOS looks their most interesting and could be the biggest danger to the champ. This 7 year-old was second in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase and so far has finished in the first three in 9 of this 10 chase starts (winning 2). At 7 years-old we’ve probably not seen the best of him yet. Yes, he fell in the JLT Novices’ Chase here last season but was in the process of running a big race that day. He was also 5th in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2016 so knows what the Festival is all about, while he stays 3m well. Connections can be expected to make full use of that proven stamina and exploit any staying doubts the main players might have with this trip certainly at the high-end of Un De Sceaux’s range.
15:30 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle 3m
2017 Winner: NICHOLS CANYON (1st 10/1)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Ruby Walsh
- 10 of the last 13 won last time out
- 16 of the last 17 winners came from the top 4 in the betting
- 8 of the last 16 were French Bred
- Respect the Cleeve Hurdle and Long Walk Hurdle form
- 14 of the last 16 winners finished 1st or 2nd in all their hurdling runs that season
- 12 of the last 13 winners started 10/1 or less in the betting
- Respect past winners of the race
- Avoid horses that didn’t finish either 1st or 2nd last time out (2 from 18)
- A 5 year-old is yet to win the race
- Trainer Willie Mullins has only won the race once
- Avoid front runners
- The Irish are have won the race just twice since 1995
- Avoid horses that were beaten in the race before (0 from 35 in the last 13 runnings)
- Previous Albert Bartlett winners have a poor record (0 from 15)
- Horses wearing headgear are 0 from 60
- Horses aged 10 or older have all been beaten since 1986 (0 from 50)
Recent Stayers’ Hurdle Winners
2017 – NICHOLS CANYON (10/1)
2016 – THISTLECRACK (Evs)
2015 – COLE HARDEN (14/1)
2014 – MORE OF THAT (15/2)
2013 – SOLWHIT (17/2)
2012 – BIG BUCK’S (5/6 fav)
2011 – BIG BUCK’S (10/11 fav)
2010 – BIG BUCK’S (5/6 fav)
2009 – BIG BUCK’S (6/1)
2008 – INGLIS DREVER (11/8 fav)
2007 – INGLIS DREVER (5/1)
2006 – MY WAY de SOLZEN (8/1)
2005 – INGLIS DREVER (5/1)
2004 – IRIS’S GIFT (9/2)
2003 – BARACOUDA (9/4 fav)
Stayers’ Hurdle Betting Trends
13/15 – Returned 8/1 or shorter in the betting
13/15 – Finished 1st or 2nd last time out
14/15 – Had raced within the last 10 weeks
12/15 – Came from the top 3 in the betting
12/15 – Had won over at least 3m (hurdles) before
12/15 – Went onto run at the Aintree Grand National Meeting later that season
12/15 – Aged 8 or younger
12/15 – Placed favourites
11/15 – Winning distance – 2 1/2 lengths or less
10/15 – Had won over hurdles at Cheltenham before
10/15 – Won their latest race
11/15 – Had raced that calendar year
9/15 – Rated 163 or higher
9/15 – Contested either the Cleeve Hurdle (6) or the Long Walk Hurdle (3) last time out
7/15 – French-bred
7/15 – Went onto win at Aintree later that season
6/15 – Winning favourite
4/15 – Trained by Paul Nicholls
5/15 – Ridden by Ruby Walsh
2/15 – Irish-trained winners
The average winning SP in the last 15 runnings is 5/1
Stayers’ Hurdle Stats:
Every winner since 1972 has been aged 6 or older
Since 1972 there have been 7 previous winners of the race
Horses that ran at the previous season’s Cheltenham Festival are 19 from 23
Horses that were placed fourth or better last time out have won 29 of the last 30 renewals
The top five in the betting have finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in 7 of the last 14 renewals
Just two Irish-trained winners since 1996 – Solwhit (2013), Nichols Canyon (2017)
All of the last 30 winners were aged 9 or younger
STATZONE VERDICT: Of the four Championship races this is the only one that we’ll unfortunately not get a chance see last year’s winner defend its title. Sadly, Nichols Canyon, who would have again been a huge player here, suffered a fatal fall at Leopardstown back in December.
So, who’s going to be the new champ this year?
For much of the build-up, the new kid on the block in the staying hurdle division – Sam Spinner – topped the market. This rapidly-improving 6 year-old has won five of his 7 starts over hurdles and was a 2 ¾ length winner of the Long Walk Hurdle – a decent trial for this – at Ascot back in December.
He’s done little wrong and beat a decent field that day that also consisted of last year’s second and third in this race – Lil Rockerfeller and Unowhatimeanharry. With the expected improvement there should be even more to come from this 5 year-old and he looks set to run a big race, especially if the ground came up soft. However, having never raced at Cheltenham is a bit of a negative for me. Yes, there is no real reason to think the track won’t suit but with all of his main rivals having proven form here then at least we can rule that doubt about when looking at their chance.
The horse that overtook him at the head of the market was last year’s Coral Cup winner – SUPASUNDAE, and, for me, it’s easy to see why. This 8 year-old was last seen winning the Irish Champion Hurdle over an inadequate 2m trip, but really this horse is a stayer. He ran the classy Apple’s Jade to ½ a length over 3m over Christmas and was giving that mare 7lbs too, while the way he won last time suggests he’s heading into the Festival in peak form.
I agree that his price is a bit on the skinny side, especially as there is quite a lot of opposition in the race but he’s clearly a better horse than the one we saw powering up the hill to win the Coral Cup last March. If the ground came up really soft on the day that would be a concern as despite running close over 3m he’s yet to win over this trip and desperate conditions would really test his stamina. I still think he’s the one to beat.
Yanworth was a nice addition to the race after he reverts back to hurdles. He did okay over fences but didn’t really hit the heights expected of him over the bigger obstacles and it looks to be a shrewd move from the Alan King yard. He’s a horse that beat Supasundae at Aintree last April so certainly has the class to take this, plus is another proven course winner at Cheltenham. Yes, his Festival record might put you off him (0-from-3), but he’s still won at the track twice (1 hurdles, 1 fences), while the King yard also took this in 2006 with My Way de Solzen. He should be thereabouts.
Outside the top three in the market there are options for those seeking better value. Last season’s Albert Barlett Novices’ winner – Penhill – would be a player for the Mullins camp that took this race last year. Yes, he’s not been seen since last April so you’d have to take his fitness on trust but he’s a horse that has gone well fresh in the past and won at the Festival last season after having 3 ½ months off. Another that’s hard to ignore.
The New One, who landed the 2013 Neptune, probably deserves to win another Festival race and for many years people have been crying out for him to run in the Stayers’ – they finally get their wish. He’s another you can make a case for but, for me – although I’d love to see him collect at the age of 10 – he might have missed the boat and may just get found out by some younger legs.
The same applies to last year’s short-priced favourite – Unowhatimeanharry, who is also 10 and seems to have lost his way this season. He’s also held by Sam Spinner this season on that Long Walk form and probably had his chance 12 months ago. Yes, he could bounce back but he looks more on the downgrade to me from what we’ve seen this season.
The powerful owners of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede could have two live outside chances though. Their Wholestone rarely runs a bad race at Cheltenham and was a decent third in the Albert Bartlett last season. Plus, they also have the ultra-consistent L’AMI SERGE (e/w). This 8 year-old is hard to win with these days but he also rarely finishes out of the frame. He was last seen running a close third over fences (SkyBet Chase, Doncaster), while the time before was second in the Long Walk Hurdle behind Sam Spinner. His overall record over hurdles reads an impressive 17 top three finishes from 20 starts – meaning he’s got an 85% strike-rate of finishing in the top three – not bad!
He was also a close second in the County Hurdle at last season’s Festival. Add in a third in the 2016 JLT Novices’ Chase and a fourth in Douvan’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle back in 2015 then he’s become a Festival regular that is never far away in his races at this meeting.
With that in-mind he looks a solid alternative to Supasundae for those looking to play this race differently. Yes, with only two wins from his last 15 runs he often finds one or two too good and he’d be a surprise winner of the race. However, he’s also a horse that rarely runs a bad race and one you know will be thereabouts – that’s a big plus if you are punting him to be in the shake-up.
16:10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate 2m 5f
2017 Winner: ROAD TO RESPECT (1st 14/1)
Trainer – Noel Meade
Jockey – BJ Cooper
- 26 of the last 30 winners were officially rated 141 or less
- The last 9 winners carried under 11-0
- Look out for French-breds
- Venetia Williams & Pipe-trained runners should be noted
- The Pipe yard have won 7 of the last 20 runnings
- 16 of the last 17 winners returned at double-figure odds
- 20 of the last 26 winners had run at the Festival before (but 5 of last 7 were having Festival debut)
- 17 of the last 18 winners had run in no more than 16 chases
- 17 of the last 18 winners came from outside the top 4 in the market
- Avoid horses that are yet to win at Class 3 or better
- The Irish have only sent out 3 winners since 1951
- 1 winning favourite in the last 12 years
- 2 of last 23 won with 11st+
- Winners of chase at Cheltenham before are currently 0-from71
STATZONE VERDICT: Road To Respect took this race 12 months ago but it’s worth pointing out he was one of just 3 Irish-trained winners since 1951. We’ve also had just the one winning favourite in the last 12 years, while surprisingly winning course form here isn’t that important – past winners over fences at Cheltenham in this race are 0 from 71. Having said that, experience of this meeting is a plus with 20 of the last 26 winners having raced at the Festival before – 5 of the last 7 winners were also having their Festival debuts. The last 9 winners carried less than 11-0, plus 16 of the last 17 winners returning a double-figure price then it’s been a good race for the bookies. The Pipe and Venetia Williams yards have been big players too – especially the Pipe’s who have won this 7 times in the last 20 runnings. They have KING’S SOCKS in the race and this looks a typical Pipe plot horse. This 6 year-old has only run once for the yard but wasn’t disgraced to be 8 lengths behind Modus, while when racing in France he ran a certain Footpad to 2 ½ lengths back in 2016. Yes, these Pipe handicap horses can sometimes be over bet but it’s hard to get away from their good record in the race, while off a mark of just 140 this lightly-raced 6 year-old could easily be thrown-in. Guitar Pete landed the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup here in December and is only 5lbs higher here and despite unseating last time out he still had a shout at the time and the Nicky Richards camp have given him plenty of time to get over that (54 days). Last season’s Close Brothers Chase winner at the Festival – Tully East – is another that is sure to popular. This 8 year-old should have more to come and ran well last time over 2m1f when third at Leopardstown. He is, however, 10lbs higher than when running at the Festival last season but after also running 4th in the Martin Pipe Hurdle in 2016 then he clearly goes well here. One horse that has raced at Prestbury Park though is MOVEWITHTHETIMES. This Paul Nicholls-trained 7 year-old has run three times over fences and they’ve all been here at Cheltenham! Okay, he’s yet to win over the bigger obstacles but was wasn’t beaten far behind the likes of North Hill Harvey, Finian’s Oscar and Kalondra – all decent sorts. Yes, he might need to brush up his jumping but it’s interesting Nicholls has kept him off the track for around 3 months – no doubt to keep him fresh and also to get plenty of schooling into him. Don’t forget, he was a decent hurdler that finished a close second in the 2017 Betfair Hurdle – there should be more to come from him. All of the Venetia Williams runners should be given a second glance, but if getting in WILLIE BOY (e/w) could be the most interesting. He’s won 2 of his 4 chase starts but despite flopping last time at Newbury he was still sent off favourite that day to suggest better was expected. He’s only 6lbs higher than when winning well at Newbury in November, plus he’s a horse that’s gone well fresh in the past so it’s interesting the yard – who, don’t forget have a good record in this race, have a good record in – have kept him off the track since early December. The longer trip and stiff finish are also big pluses.
16:50 Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices Hurdle 2m1f
2017 Winner: LET’S DANCE (1st 11/8 fav)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Ruby Walsh
- A new race (Just two renewals)
- Favourites have won both runnings
- Both winners won last time out
- Both winners have been aged 5 years-old
- Trainer Willie Mullins won the 2016 & 2017 races
- Ruby Walsh has ridden the winner in 2016 & 2017
- Owner Rich Ricci has won the last 2 runnings
STATZONE VERDICT: Maria’s Benefit will be flying the flag for the smaller yards and this Stuart Edmunds-trained 6 year-old looks to have a big chance. She’s won 5 of her 6 starts over hurdles and since October has improved around 30lbs! She’s a rapidly progressive 6 year-old that travels well in her races but this will be by far her biggest test to date. It will also be her first run at the track and although there is no obvious reason why it won’t suit, I’d also be worried that she had a very tough race last time at Doncaster. Yes, she’s had 6 weeks to get over that but we’ll have to see if that ½ length win over Irish Roe has left it’s mark. The fact the second has since been pulled-up in the Betfair Hurdle suggests it might have been a hard race for both horses. Nicky Henderson’s Countister is another with a leading chance. She’s won well the last twice and being a Group Two winner on the flat in France brings a lot of class to the race. However, based on the current ratings the Willie Mullins-trained LAURINA looks the one to beat. It’s no secret connections like this one and with the yard having won the only two runnings of this newest race then she’s got a lot going for her. Another French recruit, that is 2-from-2 over hurdles. She has won over 2m2f as well so staying up the Cheltenham Hill won’t be an issue. Yes, she’s yet to race on quicker ground, but there is likely to be some degree of cut underfoot so I can’t see conditions being an issue. Mullins is already talking in high regard about this horse and despite not owning it, in a recent interview with Rich Ricci he told me (name drop) this was his best bet of the Festival and one Willie likes an awful lot. Mullins also has Stormy Island and Salsaretta in the race, but it’s clear he feels Laurina holds the edge over that pair.
17:30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase 3m 1½f
2017 Winner: DOMESDAY BOOK (1st 40/1)
Trainer – Stuart Edmunds
Jockey – Gina Andrews
- Respect 8 and 9 year-olds
- 3 of the last 7 winners ran in the BetVictor Handicap Chase (Open Meeting)
- The last 6 winners ran off a mark of 137 or more
- 6 of the last 8 winners carried 11st 6lbs+
- Look for McCain, Pipe and Henderson-trained runners
- Look for horses in the top half of the handicap
- 16 of the last 18 winners ran over at least three miles in their last race
- Look for non-claiming amateur riders
- 6 of the last 7 winners wore headgear
- 7 of the last 9 winners came from the top 6 in the market
- Jamie Codd has ridden 4 of the last 9 winners
- Nina Carberry placed 6 times, Derek O’Connor 2nd 3 times
- Just two Irish winners for 34 years (but have won 2 of the last 4)
- Horses that fell or unseated that season have a poor record (0 from 69)
- Avoid Paul Nicholls-trained horses – he’s just 1 placed horse from his last 19
- Trainer Willie Mullins has a poor record in the race
- Horses carrying less than 10-10 have a poor record
- French breds are 0 from 52 since 2005
- Avoid claiming jockeys – 1 from 77 since 2009
STATZONE VERDICT: The Kim Muir has not been a great race for the Irish over the years – with just 2 wins from the last 34 runnings but it is worth pointing out those two victories came in the last 4 years so the Emerald Isle handlers might just be turning this stat around. A race for the amateur riders too and really having one of the more experienced jockeys riding can be the difference. Nina Carberry has been placed 6 times in the race, while Derek O’Connor has been second three times. However, the main man in this race in recent years has been the ‘Codd Father’ – Jamie Codd. He’s ridden the 4 winners in the last 9 years! It’s also interesting that claiming jockey have a bad record – you’d think the extra weight off would help but it seems experience actually outweighs that in this race. And that applies to most of the amateur riders’ races at the Festival. Therefore, the main thing to remember here is it’s all about the jockeys – it’s as simple as that! You really can’t go too far wrong in backing a jockey, rather than a horse in this race. The cream always seems to rise to the top in these amateur riders’ races and, as mentioned before, perming these top pilots up in forecasts and tri-casts can pay-off. Trainers Donald McCain, David Pipe and Nicky Henderson have done well in the race in the past too so anything they run commands respect, while in contrast the Nicholls yard have only had 1 placed horse in the last 19 years. Missed Approach was a decent second in the 4m race at the Festival 12 months ago and is certainly one for the shortlist, while the 9 year-old THE YOUNG MASTER (e/w) is another that caught the eye as being well-handicapped. This Neil Mulholland runner is now rated just 135 but a few years back was winning the Bet365 Gold Cup off 148 – 13lbs higher. He was 3rd in the 2016 Ultima and 6th in that same race 12 months ago so knows what the Festival is all about – those efforts came off 149 and 150! He’s had some form of wind surgery since being pulled up at Newcastle in early February, so there is a chance that can help recapture some of this old form. If so, this former course winner looks extremely interesting. Squouateur, Doing Fine, Pendra and Sugar Baron are all others that shouldn’t be overlooked but really, it’s hard to get away from MALL DINI. This 8 year-old had a few Festival options this year but has opted for this race and it’s easy to see why. Off a mark of 143 he looks weighted to run very well considering he’s been running in much better races that this of late. He’s not been beaten far behind the likes of Invitation Only and Presenting Percy this season but certainly won’t find anything of that class running here. He was also 5th in this race 12 months ago off this 143 mark but did well to only be 3 lengths off the winner after being hampered two out. Don’t forget, he also landed the 2016 Pertemps Hurdle so from two Festival runs he’s won once and been an unlucky fifth – not bad! With a bit more luck in-running and at just 8 years-old then everything looks in place for another top Festival display from this Patrick Kelly-trained runner.
That should be all you need, if you can’t make the right decisions with all that info, there’s no helping you!