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.
“We have had a good week with our tips to date, with six of the main selections winning (at 7/2, 10/1, 8/11, 6/4, 11/4 and 4/1) and three next best tips coming in (at odds of 8/1, 7/1 and 15/2). Other races included four seconds (at 7/2, 13/2, 8/1 and 13/2), as well as three thirds, so you would be well ahead if following our advice so far.”
The final day of Cheltenham 2014 kicks off with what is traditionally one of the most competitive novice events at the Festival. Only one favourite has won this race in the last ten years, although all bar two were priced in single figures.
The market this year is headed by the Paul Nicholls trained CALIPTO, a French recruit that has done nothing wrong on his two starts in the UK to date, winning both novice hurdles at Newbury in fine style. Paul Nicholls has won this race twice since 2008 with Celestial Halo and Zarkandar, so his chances obviously have to be respected.
Trainer Nicky Henderson and jockey Barry Geraghty are also seeking a hat trick in the Triumph after scoring back-to-back victories with Zaynar and Soldatino in 2010 and 2011. They team up with Royal Irish Hassar, winner of his first three hurdle races including a Triumph trial here in November. However, he has not been seen back on the track in this calendar year.
A total of 17 of the last 20 Triumph victors had won at least two races over hurdles, including last time out, so solid winning form is essential. That would discount John Ferguson’s Broughton, who has had only two runs so far, his maiden success coming last time out in the Scottish Triumph Hurdle trial at Musselbugh. Tiger Roll has also had just the two runs and one win for Gordon Elliott.
Despite the impressive success of Our Conor last year, this has not been the luckiest races for the Irish, with only eight placed horses out of 60 runners in the last decade. Guitar Pete remains one for the shortlist nevertheless; he has won four of his six hurdle starts to date, including a Grade One Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in February.
And of course given the scintillating form of Willie Mullins’ novices so far this week it would be foolish to discount the chances of Adriana Des Mottes and Abbysial, with the latter on a four timer after accounting for his stablemate in a Grade Two Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse last month.
Selection: Calipto 4/1 with bet365
Next Best: Royal Irish Hassar 9/1 with Ladbrokes
2.05pm Vincent OBrien County Handicap Hurdle
The County Hurdle used to close the meeting when it was run as a three-day Festival, earning its reputation as the most devilish of ‘getting out stakes’. Now run as the second race on the Friday, finding the winner is still no easier! However, you can forget any contender carrying 11st 1lb or more as no horse has landed the County Hurdle with a heavier weight in the last ten years.
The stats would therefore be against the chances of top weight Diakali, Flaxen Flare and Cinders and Ashes, despite this trio having the best form in the book.
Winner of Grade One contests at the 2013 Punchestown Festival and in France in the summer, Diakali finished third in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse behind Champion Hurdle winner Jezki in December, which obviously now reads very well. Last season’s Triumph Hurdle fourth would therefore have sound claims, but the weight may just tell.
Flaxen Flare has only once finished outside the first four over hurdles and is already a Festival winner after taking the Fred Winter here last year. Likewise, Cinders and Ashes landed the Supreme Novices Hurdle in fine style at the 2012 Festival, but has not been seen on track since being pulled up in last year’s Champion Hurdle.
The Irish always have to be feared in the County Hurdle as they have won six of the last seven renewals. Diakali’s stablemate Arctic Fire, the chosen mount of Ruby Walsh, will be high on many shortlists after running with credit in two Grade One contests recently, but is comparatively inexperienced with only four hurdle runs to date.
Another Irish challenger Never Enough Time comes here in great heart, landing two competitive handicap hurdles in convincing fashion this winter, although of JP McManus’s four contenders AP McCoy has elected to ride Minella Foru for trainer Edward Harty.
Saturday’s Sandown scorer Baltimore Rock unfortunately missed the cut for this race, but Cheltenian is still set to carry the owner’s silks in the race for trainer Philip Hobbs and has an obvious chance based on his win in the Champion Bumper at the 2011 Festival. Lightly raced since, he only scored his first success over hurdles in December at Uttoxeter. The eight year old wouldn’t fit the typical profile of a County Hurdle winner, but is nevertheless respected.
Younger horses tend to fare better, with eight 5 year olds successful in the last 15 runnings, which would include Diakali, Flaxen Flare, Arctic Fire, Minella Foru and Lac Fontana. Last year’s Triumph Hurdle eighth Lac Fontana is an interesting contender, winning two of his three races here at Cheltenham this season, including a five length victory at the end of January.Eight of the last ten winners were second season hurdlers, another positive for Lac Fontana, Flaxen Flare and Diakali, but with a decent enough weight of 10st 11lb preference is for the Paul Nicholls’ trained runner.
Selection: Lac Fontana 12/1 with Paddy Power
Next Best: Cheltenian 9/1 with William Hill
2.40pm Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
There have been some top class novice hurdles already this week and, like Tuesday’s Supreme, this one sets up another mouth-watering clash between the UK and Ireland, with Kings Palace set to take on the hot Willie Mullins trained favourite BRIAR HILL. Four favourites have won this in the last eight years, with only one winner bigger than 9/1, so the market is traditionally a good guide.
It’s hard to split the front pair on form, with both horses unbeaten this season in scoring a hat trick of victories apiece. There’s no doubt that David Pipe’s gelding is a very exciting prospect and his devastating 14 length victory at Cheltenham in December made a big impression. If he lives up to that promise he could take all the beating.
Briar Hill may prove a tough nut to crack, however, and remains unbeaten under rules – including a win in the Champion Bumper here last season. With that race providing future Festival winners in Cue Card and Champagne Fever in recent years there are big hopes that Briar Hill could prove to be top class as well.
Willie Mullins has already landed two novice hurdles this week in impressive style with Vautour and Faugheen, both tipped up here, so we have to stick with Briar Hill as the Irish maestro thinks this could be the best of the trio.
Captain Cutter runs here instead of the Neptune due to the drying ground, and Nicky Henderson has admitted that his horse is up against it here. He retained his 100% record over the smaller obstacles after landing the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury and deserves his place in the line-up.
Selection: Briar Hill 13/8 with Betvictor
Next Best: Kings Palace 7/2 with Ladbrokes
With former Gold Cup winner Long Run being aimed at the Grand National, plus last year’s runner up Sir Des Champs and Arkle winner Simonsig both missing this season due to injury, the Blue Riband event of the Festival lacks a bit of its usual lustre. Ryanair Chase winner Cue Card was withdrawn due to a stress fracture last month and another blow came this week when it was announced that Captain Chris would also be forced to miss the race.
However, BOBS WORTH returns to defend his crown and is entitled to be a short priced favourite in his bid for back-to-back victories. He put a disappointing reappearance in the Betfair Chase behind him when landing the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas in pulsating fashion. Unbeaten in five starts at Cheltenham, three of those victories coming at the Festival, Bobs Worth has never been headed when hitting the front. Anything close to last year’s performance would surely be good enough again.
His chief rival is King George winner Silviniaco Conti, who fell in the race last year when a well fancied second favourite. He subsequently failed to fire when third in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree and could only fill the same spot in the Betfair Chase, but made amends in no uncertain fashion at Kempton, landing the King George by three and a half lengths, turning the tables on his Haydock conqueror Cue Card.
Irish hopes are represented by Last Instalment and First Lieutenant who both run in the Gigginstown colours carried to success in the Gold Cup by War Of Attrition in 2009. Last Instalment returned to the track after a two year absence to score in scintillating fashion in the Grade One Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown, beating Tidal Bay by eight and a half lengths. However, that was on soft to heavy going and the faster ground will not be in his favour.
First Lieutenant has finished runner-up at the last two Festivals, behind Bobs Worth in the 2012 RSA Chase and beaten nine lengths by Cue Card in the 2013 Ryanair Chase. He then went on to land the Grade One Betfred Bowl at Aintree. Another without a win so far this season, although a narrow second behind Bobs Worth in the Lexus Chase reads very well and the former Neptune Novices’ Hurdle winner does seem to come into his own at this time of year.
Others to consider include Newbury’s Hennessy winner Triolo D’Alene, also saddled by Bobs Worth’s handler Nicky Henderson, and On His Own, who has looked better than ever in landing the Thyestes and Bobbyjo Chase. This pair (along with 2012 National Hunt Chase winner Teaforthree) were originally being aimed at the Grand National, so the Gold Cup was not their main target. Nevertheless, all three horses are capable of making the frame at a decent price.
Next Best: Silviniaco Conti 7/2 with Paddy Power
4.00pm CGA Foxhunter Chase
There is no Salsify this year, so in the absence of the dual Foxhunters winner this race looks a little more open than it would otherwise have been. The betting is headed by another Irish challenger, ON THE FRINGE, trained by Enda Bolger and due to be ridden by Nina Carberry. Winner of the Champion Hunters Chase at Punchestown at the end of last season, he has obvious claims here, despite being beaten by Tammy’s Hill on his last run.
Harbour Court is unlucky not to be unbeaten in three starts under rules after unseating his rider last time out at Kelso. However, he looks a little inexperienced for the hustle and bustle of this race and his jumping could come under question again. There has to be no unluckier horse than Oscar Delta though, who was agonisingly denied success in this race last year when unshipping Jane Mangan after the last with the pair well clear.
Pearlysteps was a useful chaser in his day without being top class, finishing seventh in the 2011 National Hunt Chase at the Festival. Now a veteran, he has won his first two hunter chase outings in decent style, beating Made In Time last time out at Ludlow. Rebecca Curtis’s horse won a fortnight later, so that form looks solid enough, and Pearlysteps’ jockey Ollie Greenall previously won the Foxhunters on Amicelli in 2008.
On the negative side, 21 of the last 25 winners of this race were aged 10 or younger, with 22 of them coming from a traditional point to point / hunter chase background (although 19 of the last 20 winners had previously won under rules).
This race is one where it has paid to pick an outsider, with two winners at 33/1 and two at 20/1 in the last eight years. Therefore it may be worth taking on the market leaders and looking for some each way value. Certain Flight and That’s Rhythm have also been in good heart in similar events recently, both remaining unbeaten this season.
Selection: On The Fringe 4/1 with Stan James
Next Best: Certain Flight 22/1 with Paddy Power
4.40pm Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle
The penultimate contest, run for conditional jockeys, is one that has been a bookmaker’s benefit so far, with only Sir Des Champs justifying favouritism in the five runnings to date. The other winners have all been priced between 14/1 and 25/1 so again it has been fiendishly difficult to pinpoint the winner.
Trainer David Pipe has yet to win the race bearing his famous father’s name despite fielding a strong challenge annually. He saddles the favourite once again with VIEUX LION ROUGE, who quite possibly represents his best chance yet in the race and it’s notable that he is Pipe’s only representative this year. Winner of six of his seven races under rules, he has looked very progressive in landing a hat trick of victories this season and should run well.
Nicky Henderson was successful in the inaugural running of this race with Andytown in 2009 and his Full Shift will be ridden by Nico de Boinville, who won the Coral Cup for the trainer on Whisper earlier this week. Better each way value might be represented by his stablemate Une Artiste, who won the Fred Winter at the Festival in 2012. This likeable mare has only been out of the first two on five of her last 17 starts, winning ten races in the process.
Willie Mullins had several declared at the five day stage, but has decided to rely on the unexposed Don Poli, a French recruit who has won two of his three outings since joining the all-conquering Irish stable.
You want to pick a five or six year old in this race, as they have won all five renewals and accounted for eight of the placed horses. All winners were also within eight pounds of the top weight, carrying 11st 2lb or more.
Selection: Vieux Lion Rouge 15/2 with Paddy Power
Next Best: Une Artiste 25/1 with Bet365
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5.15pm Johnny Henderson Grand Annual
The curtain falls on a veritable feast of punting with the now-traditional last race of the Festival, the Grand Annual. Just as David Pipe wants to win the race name in his Dad’s honour, so Nicky Henderson likes to aim a few bullets at the Grand Annual. He has won the race twice in the last ten years, with Greenhope in 2006 and Bellvano in 2012, and this year saddles three Festival veterans, Tanks For That, French Opera and Anquetta, who have all finished placed in the Grand Annual before.
Ted Veale ran in the Arkle instead of this and was subsequently replaced as favourite by NEXT SENSATION, who makes plenty of appeal after winning three of his last four starts for trainer Michael Scudamore. The latest 9lb rise may not be enough to stop this game front-runner. Jockey Richard Johnson is enjoying a tremendous week with two winners so far.
All of the last ten winners have carried 10st 13lb or less to victory, so this is another race where it pays to stick with horses at the bottom end of the handicap. The JP McManus owned Ned Buntline falls into that category. Never out of the first three in eight starts, he split Champion Hurdle winner Jezki and Champion Bumper winner Silver Concorde on his racecourse debut in January 2012, form that now looks very good indeed!
JP McManus also has Eastlake for Jonjo O’Neill, winner of a competitive handicap chase here at Cheltenham in December, but interestingly AP McCoy has opted to ride Mr Mole, who is potentially still unexposed over fences. His form so far over the larger obstacles is difficult to evaluate, with two defeats in small fields recently, but both were against decent rivals.
Alan King won this with Oh Crick in 2009 and will be represented by Raya Star. He could only finish 13th in last season’s County Hurdle but is generally a consistent sort and has run with credit recently against higher grade opposition in three Grade Two novice chases.
Selection: Next Sensation 8/1 with bet365