Friday 22 February 2019

Cheltenham: The Festival and the Facts

It seems like it was only yesterday that we were caught up in the thrill of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, which experienced record breaking crowds of over a quarter of a million over the four day festival (with 70 thousand+ on Gold Cup day alone). With a Gold Cup win from the Colin Tizzard trained Native River, and odds on shot Buveur D'Air in the Champion Hurdle, there was plenty of excitement to appreciate for fans of top drawer racing.

Without a doubt the Cheltenham Roar will be of equal or higher volume during the 2019 Cheltenham Festival (starting March 12th), where the cream of the crop of racing talent will once again go head to head to see who's going to be this year's history makers. We're sure you'll be be tuning in for this unmissble four day festival and most likely having a flutter too (and who can blame you!). We'll be checking out Cheltenham tips from the experts at closer to the Festival start date and highlighting ones to watch. Current favourite for the showpiece event, the Gold Cup, is Presenting Percy at 3-1 (Native River is 5-1).

Ten Cheltenham Festival Facts

- The fastest Gold Cup victory was in 2011, when Long Run completed the course in just 6 minutes 29 seconds. Native River took 7 mins 2 seconds in 2018.

- Last year's total Cheltenham prize money was a mind boggling £4,590,000. Over £1,000,000 each day for the first time

- The Festival is said to be worth around £100,000,000 to the Gloucestershire community

- Prize money for the Cheltenham Gold Cup alone in 2018 was £625,000, up from £575,000 the previous year

- The Cheltenham Gold Cup was first run in 1924 where prize money was just £700

- Only seven horses have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup more than once, with Golden Miller winning the race a stunning 5 times in a row

- Dawn Run holds the honour of being the only horse ever to have won both the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup.

- The most successful trainer at the event is Tim Dreaoer with five Gold Cup wins on three horses (Prince Regent, Arkle and Fort Leney).

- The 2001 Foot and Mouth disease was the only non war related reason the Cheltenham Festival has ever been called off.

- A stand out jockey achievement at the Festival occurred in 2009 when Ruby Walsh rode seven winners over the course of the four days

Friday 15 February 2019

Best Bets For The Four Champions Races At The 2019 Cheltenham Festival

There are 28 races scheduled for the 2019 Cheltenham Festival but the four Championship contests are the ones which stand out more than any other across the week. Here is a preview of those four races and the best bets in each renewal.

Champion Hurdle

Buveur D’Air is bidding for his third straight Champion Hurdle success this year which would put him alongside some of the great hurdlers who have managed to achieve that feat. The eight-year-old tops the betting to come out on top again, however, his defeat at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle may suggest he is worth opposing at the prices this year.

The good news for racing fans is that connections of Apple’s Jade have revealed she will line up in this race after she was so impressive in the Irish Champion Hurdle earlier this month. Annie Power was the last mare to win the premier hurdle contest in 2016 and with a seven-pound weight allowance in her favour, she is likely to have plenty of supporters.

The top two in the betting both have solid chances, however, it may pay to back the younger mare in the race in Laurina who is available at 7/2. She was such a comfortable winner of the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle last season and looks more than good enough to take her chance against the opposite sex here.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the Blue Riband event of National Hunt racing and as always it should be another fascinating contest. Last year’s winner Native River is set to return to bid to retain his crown, something which has not been done since Best Mate won the race for the third time in 2014.

Native River has had an average campaign so far as he was second at Haydock in the opening leg of the Chase Triple Crown, while he finished third at Kempton in the King George VI Chase. This 3m2f contest is a real test of stamina though and will suit him perfectly once again.

The leading novice of last season Presenting Percy will be stepping up against the older and more experienced horses this time around and on the evidence of his dominant RSA Chase victory last March, you think he would have a strong chance. Sadly we have only seen him once this season and after making a winning reappearance at Gowran Park, he was cut for Gold Cup glory by the bookmakers.

Last year’s runner up Might Bite has had a really disappointing campaign so far. He was travelling so well in the King George at Kempton before dropping down the field in the closing stages. Although there may have been reason for that poor showing from Nicky Henderson’s horse, it is hard to see him returning to form again in time therefore at 5/1 in the ante-post market, Native River is the best bet to outstay his rivals up the hill for a second time in the Blue Riband contest.

Queen Mother Champion Chase
One of the shortest priced favourites at the Festival this year is Altior who is 2/5 to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase for the second consecutive year. Henderson’s runner has won all 12 of his starts over fences and it is hard to see when his first defeat will come, such has been his dominance.

Altior began his season at Sandown where he prevailed in the Tingle Creek Chase. Just weeks later he won the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton, while more recently, he was faultless again in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

If you are not having a bet in the Champion Chase, you can admire the quality of Altior as horses like him don’t come around too often. For those looking to have a bet though, the best way to play here is in the betting without the favourite market with Min who finished second behind the winner in 2018. Willie Mullins’ chaser landed the Dublin Chase earlier this month and he looks to be the one who will get closest to Altior again.

Stayers’ Hurdle

The Stayer’s Hurdle is one of the most open Championship races this season but the standout performer in the division this season has undoubtedly been Paisley Park who has claimed the Long Walk Hurdle and Cleeve Hurdle.

Emma Lavelle’s stablestar was so impressive last time at Cheltenham where he was ridden clear after the last hurdle to record a 12 length margin of victory. A repeat of that performance will ensure he is hard to beat in this race where he is 9/4 in the betting.

One of the most interesting runners in the race is former Champion Hurdle winner Faugheen. At his peak the Irish horse was very difficult to beat over 2m. On his opening appearance at 3m he won the Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, therefore, he has proved he can be effective at this trip. Willie Mullins’ runner will tempt plenty of punters in at 8/1 but it is Paisley Park who looks the most likely winner to cap off what has been a fantastic campaign for the horse.

If you are having a bet on the four Championship races today, a number of bookmakers are now offering non-runner no bet, therefore, you will be able to get insurance just in case your horse does not line up on the day of the contest.

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Trainers to Follow at the Cheltenham Festival

Aside from the Aintree Grand National there can surely be no more highly anticipated horse racing event or Festival held in the UK than the Cheltenham Festival.
In the past decade, the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at the Cheltenham Festival has been presented to just four trainers, Gordon Elliott, Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls. Mullins, Henderson and Nicholls are, in fact, the three most successful trainers in the history of the Festival, with 61, 60 and 43 winners, respectively. By contrast, Gordon Elliott is a relative newcomer, who didn’t saddle his first Festival winner until 2011, but already has 22 winners to his name, including a record-equalling eight in 2018.

At the time of writing, it’s 16/1 bar anyone other than Elliott, Mullins or Henderson winning the Irish Leading Trainer Award in 2019 – Nicholls is a 33/1 chance in the betting odds, despite leading the trainers’ championship – but we thought we’d have a look at the record of some less-heralded trainers who’ve paid their way at the Festival over the years.

Jonjo O’Neill: 26 Cheltenham Festival Winners

Nowadays the Master of Jackdaws Castle, in Temple Guiting, Gloucestershire, less than 30 minutes’ drive from Prestbury Park, Jonjo O’Neill trained his first Festival winner, Danny Connors in the Pertemps Final in 1991, from his original base in Penrith, Cumbria. He has won the Leading Trainer Award just once, in 2003, but other highlights include winning the Stayers’ Hurdle twice, with Iris’s Gift in 2004 and More Of That in 2014 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Synchronised in 2012.

Philip Hobbs: 19 Cheltenham Festival Winners

Somerset trainer Philip Hobbs saddled his first Festival winner, Moody Man in the County Hurdle, in 1990 and, although he is unlikely to win Leading Trainer Award, his runners are always worth a second look. His most recent success was with Defi Du Seuil, in the Triumph Hurdle, in 2017, but he also won the Queen Mother Champion Chase, with Flagship Uberalles, in 2002 and the Champion Hurdle, with Rooster Booster, in 2003.

Edward O’Grady: 18 Cheltenham Festival Winners

Co. Tipperary trainer Edward O’Grady saddled his first Festival winner, Mr. Midland, in the National Hunt Chase way back in 1974, but has since added 17 more to his tally. His victories include Stayers’ Hurdle twice, with Flame Gun in 1978 and Mountrivers in 1980, the Weatherbys Champion Bumper twice, with Mucklemeg in 1994 and Pizarro in 2002 , the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle twice, with Golden Cygnet in 1978 and Back In Front in 2003 and the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle twice, with Drumlargan in 1980 and Mister Donovan in 1982. Admittedly, O’Grady hasn’t saddled a winner at the Festival since 2006, when he won the Coral Cup with Sky’s The Limit, but he remains the third most successful Irish trainer of all time at the March showpiece meeting.