With over 20 years of experience in horseracing, Jason Brautigam has worked on both the racecourse and betting side of the industry. Following six years as Head of Marketing for Ascot Racecourse, he held various commercial positions at the Tote, where he was ultimately responsible for running their racecourse division. A keen punter and racing blogger himself, Jason now works as a freelance marketing communications consultant.
1.30pm JLT Novices’ Chase
The third day of the Cheltenham Festival gets underway with the JLT Novices’ Chase where, in common with most of the novice events this week, the market is headed by a Willie Mullins trained challenger. He has already won this race with Sir Des Champs in 2012 and in fact all three renewals to date have gone to Ireland.
This time it is Felix Yonger who leads the betting, despite being beaten in his last two races. Before that he had scored a hat trick on his first three attempts over fences, but disappointed at odds on over Christmas and could only manage runner up spot behind Trifolium in the Irish Arkle. Trifolium ran well enough in third on Tuesday, but there are others with equally strong claims in this race.
Despite never winning at the Festival, OSCAR WHISKY has an excellent record around Cheltenham, notching up six victories at the track, including two this season. His win in the Grade Two Dipper Chase last time, where he avenged his earlier defeat by Taquin De Seuil, cemented his claims for this race.
Oscar Whisky also has the beating of Wonderful Charm, when denying Paul Nicholls’ charge a four timer here at Cheltenham in December. Nicky Henderson’s contender is fancied to confirm form with both of his rivals again and finally land a big race at the Festival.
Selection: Oscar Whisky, 6/1 with Ladbrokes, Enter Promo Code MYBETTING for a Free £50 Bet
Next Best: Taquin De Seuil, 9/1 with Betvictor – Free £100 Bet Offer
2.05pm Pertemps Final
After yesterday’s Coral Cup, the handicap hurdles at the Festival don’t get any easier with the Pertemps Final a fiendishly tough conundrum to solve. Traditionally this is another race where it has paid to stick with the lighter weighted horses at the bottom of the handicap, but only So Fine carries less than 11 stone this year.
Philip Hobbs fields a four pronged challenge and is responsible for the pair at head the betting, the top weight Fingal Bay and If In Doubt. AP McCoy has elected to ride If In Doubt for owner JP McManus, so his chances have to be respected.
Jonjo O’Neill and David Pipe have both won this race twice in the last ten years, so it is well worth taking a closer look at their contenders. JOSIES ORDERS, also carrying the famous McManus silks, represents O’Neill this time and has been in good form this season, winning three of his last four hurdle starts.
David Pipe had six still entered at the five day stage, but has decided to rely on Broadway Buffalo and Top Wood. The latter won his qualifier for this well on his sole start this season at Haydock and, although that was something of a surprise result at 25/1, he looks the pick of the pair.
The Irish have plenty with chances too, with Seefood looking to repeat Dessie Hughes’s win in this race with Oulart in 2005. Jetson, representing Champion Hurdle winning trainer Jessica Harrington, is also prominent in the market after winning a competitive handicap hurdle at Punchestown last time out.
Next Best: Top Wood, 20/1 with Paddy Power, Bet £10 Get £20 Free
2.40pm Ryanair Chase
The first of the day’s two feature races looks to be a wide open affair, with the Ryanair Chase again featuring a mix of horses who find the two mile Champion Chase a little on the sharp side and the Gold Cup distance a step too far. It does tend to go to one of the leading fancies, though, with only one winner priced bigger than 6/1 since its inception.
2011 Supreme Novices’ hero Al Ferof was well fancied when failing to see out the trip in the King George, finishing third behind stablemate Silviniaco Conti, but that form is still arguably the best on display here. Winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup here at Cheltenham on his seasonal reappearance, he was a beaten favourite when finishing a distant runner up in the Denman Chase on heavy ground at Newbury recently, but this drop back in trip should suit.
BENEFFICIENT sprang something of a surprise at the Festival last season when winning the Jewson Novices’ Chase, but struggled to repeat that level of form subsequently at Punchestown and again on his seasonal bow in the Charlie Hall Chase. However, he bounced back with a decent win in a Grade One chase at Leopardstown last time out, with Hidden Cyclone, Arvika Ligeonniere and Sizing Europe behind, so he has every chance of scoring back-to-back Festival victories.
Dynaste was the hot favourite in the 2013 Jewson but could only finish runner-up to Benefficient, so David Pipe will be hoping that he can turn the tables on his conqueror this time around. He remains without a win so far in two attempts this season and has not been seen on the track since finishing fifth in the King George – a race that five of the last six Ryanair Chase winners contested.
Nicky Henderson’s Rajdhani Express won the novice handicap chase here last year so has winning Festival form in the book, but this is a much stiffer task.
Selection: Benefficient 4/1 with Betvictor
Next Best: Al Ferof 5/1 with Paddy Power, Bet £10 Get £20 Free
3.20pm Ladbrokes World Hurdle
The World Hurdle features one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes of the Festival, with the great stayer and four times winner of this race, Big Buck’s, back after a year off with injury to try and win back his crown at the grand old age of eleven. Despite the absence of last year’s World Hurdle hero Solwhit, Big Buck’s faces what could possibly be his stiffest task to date against Willie Mullins’ exciting mare ANNIE POWER.
Annie Power remains unbeaten in ten starts, with seven bloodless victories over hurdles; the last three coming in Britain this season at Ascot, Cheltenham and Doncaster, landing that hat trick by a combined 28 lengths. Many racing fans were hoping that Annie Power would line up in the Champion Hurdle, as she has never been tested over this distance. However, she has shown no signs of stopping on her three outings this season (beating Zarkandar with ease on two occasions) and in receipt of 7lb from her male counterparts she has every chance to justify her lofty reputation.
Adding even more intrigue, jockey Ruby Walsh will be on board Annie Power rather than continuing his long association with Big Buck’s, who will be ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies. Off the track for over a year, Big Buck’s could only finish third on his return. He should strip fitter for that effort, but the question remains whether he retains any of his old ability. At his best he would be a formidable opponent.
Of course it is not just about this pair, although you could be forgiven for thinking they are the only two in the race! The forgotten horse may well be At Fishers Cross, winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the 2013 Festival. He has yet to reproduce the sort of form that saw him rattle of six victories last season, but showed positive signs of returning to his best when just a short-head second in the Cleeve Hurdle, a place in front of Big Buck’s.
Champion Jockey AP McCoy has chosen At Fishers Cross over the other JP McManus owned contender More Of That, but he may end up regretting that decision, just as he did in the Champion Hurdle earlier this week. Barry Geraghty was successful on Jezki and he’s picked up another great spare ride here. Unbeaten in four starts over hurdles, the last coming in the Grade Two Relkeel Hurdle here at Cheltenham in December, he has looked a very progressive sort and represents solid each way value.
4.00pm – Byrne Group Plate
After a double dose of Grade One action, it’s back to another competitive handicap chase and this one traditionally throws up some shock results, with winners at 50/1, 25/1, 33/1 and 66/1 in the last six years! In fact only Salut Flo has won at shorter than 12/1 in the last decade, when justifying favouritism two years ago.
So this is one for the pinstickers and the best bet is to go for two or three outsiders in the hope that at least one of them makes the frame.
Owner JP McManus loves these big Festival handicaps though and he is represented by four contenders for four different trainers. His Tap Night (Lucinda Russell) and Colour Squadron (Philip Hobbs) heading the market for this race, with AP McCoy opting to ride the latter over the ante post favourite.
But the trainers to look out for here are Nicky Henderson (two winners in 2005 and 2006), David Pipe (successful in 2010 and 2012) and Venetia Williams (a hat trick of victories since 2007, including Carrickboy at 50/1 last year). So course winner Nadiya De La Vega, Giorgio Quercus, Ballynagour, eighth in this last year, Benny’s Mist and recent scorer SHANGANI would all be of interest.
Only two winners in the last decade have carried more than 10st 10lb to victory and seven winners were on 10st 7lb or less, so you have to focus on the bottom end of the handicap to solve this particular puzzle. In fact 24 of the last 26 winners of this race were officially rated no higher than 141, which equates to those on 10st 9lb or less this year.
John’s Spirit will be a popular choice having already won twice at Cheltenham this season, including the Paddy Power Gold Cup, although he hasn’t been seen on track since finishing fifth on the course in December (behind Colour Squadron in third) and is near the top end of the weights on 11st 3lb.
Malcolm Jefferson’s Firth Of The Clyde has been in good heart this season and never out of the frame on four starts, so is another to consider in what is a wide open contest.
Next Best: Firth Of The Clyde, 18/1 with Paddy Power Bet £5, Get £20 Free
4.40pm – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup
Thursday’s card finishes with an ultra-competitive handicap for amateur riders, so the jockey selection is just as important as the horse. Unlike the previous race, this is one where it pays to stick with those at the top end of the handicap, with four of the last five winners carrying 11st 6lb or more.
Mr J J Codd has won this race twice in the last five years, so certainly knows what it takes to ride at the Festival. He looks to have a decent chance again this year with the veteran Tranquil Sea, who despite his advancing years has not returned to Cheltenham since finishing ninth in the 2010 Ryanair Chase. He did land the Paddy Power Gold Cup earlier that season though, so he does have winning form at the track.
Leading Irish amateur jockey Derek O’Connor is another name to watch out for, as he has also had previous Festival wins with Zemsky and Chicago Grey. He has been snapped up to ride the favourite INDIAN CASTLE for Donald McCain, who has won this race twice with Ballabriggs in 2010 and Cloudy Lane in 2007. Indian Castle comes here in tremendous form, having won three of his four outings this season. In fact he has not been out of the first two on his last eight starts so has to be high on any short list.
Owner JP McManus won this with Sunnyhillboy in 2012 and his Cause of Causes, ridden by Nina Carberry, gives him a good chance to repeat that success. Cause of Causes could only finish seventh behind Champagne Fever in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdles at last year’s Festival, but has been knocking on the door recently. An unlucky runner up in his last two races, failing to score by just a short head and a nose, he certainly cannot be discounted here.
Selection: Indian Castle 7/1 with William Hill, £50 Bet Offer
Next Best: Cause of Causes, 7/1 with Betvictor, £100 Bet Offer