Tag Archives: Cheltenham

Apples Jade – Does She Need The Run?

Every year, we hear the same rumours that certain horses are “festival bankers”. This year is no different, with 4 favourites on the Tuesday all supposedly “banker material”. However, it has paid in the past to try to pick holes in these favourites and identify reasons that it may be better to oppose them.

Apples Jade is a difficult one. Since winning this race last year, she has looked fairly bulletproof with 4 wins from 4 subsequent starts (3 of them in grade one company). However, the only real question mark over her is that she will go into the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham after a break of 75 days.

Apples Jade has won 10 times from 14 starts over hurdles. Three of her four losses do have something in common. The first came at Cheltenham in the 2016 Triumph Hurdle when she came 2nd behind Ivanovich Gorbatov. Interestingly, this came after a break of 83 days (she hadn’t run since Leopardstown over Christmas). After this, she went on to win two successive races at the end of the season at Aintree and Punchestown. In hindsight, one would wonder whether she needed the run at Cheltenham to shake off the cobwebs.

In the 2015/16 season, she made her seasonal debut at Down Royal following a break of 188 days. She was beaten into 2nd that day behind Rashaan in what was probably the most disappointing performance of her career. She ran again just 3 weeks later in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, finishing 2nd behind Irving. Again, she was the beaten favourite, but after this shorter break her performance was far better than on her seasonal debut. Yet again, one would wonder whether she needed the break to shake off the cobwebs.

After another quick turnaround, she ran in the Hattons Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in early December and won (narrowly beating Vroum Vroum Mag). This was to be her last start for 80 days, until she ran at Punchestown in late February. Again, she was beaten after a break, finishing 2 lengths behind Limini. However, just a couple of weeks later she would go on to reverse this form at the Cheltenham Festival, and finished off the season with another win at Punchestown.

This season has been slightly different. Her first start of the season came at Navan in November and she did win despite the break of 197 days. She probably still improved from that start to the next, winning the Hattons Grace for a second consecutive year before winning at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Despite having been beaten following a break after Christmas in each of the last two years, the decision has been made to run fresh at Cheltenham. However, her form after a break of over 50 days now reads 12221, compared to 11211111 after a shorter period off the track.

The Opposition

While opposition looked scarce, Willie Mullins announced last week that 2016 winner Vroum Vroum Mag will in fact return to the race this year, hoping to reverse the form with Apples Jade from last year’s race.

Vroum Vroum Mag has won 7 times from 11 starts over hurdles – however, she has also won once from 4 starts in bumpers and has a perfect record of 6 wins from 6 chase starts. We’ll ignore 6 of these starts (her first 6 runs in bumpers and over hurdles in France) and focus on her career since moving to Willie Mullins’ yard.

She was unbeaten in her first two seasons with Mullins, the second of which culminated in a victory in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Punchestown Champion Hurdle a few weeks later in April 2016. She then faced a long break and wasn’t seen for 219 days before running in the Hattons Grace at Fairyhouse. She was beaten that day by Apples Jade but ran more or less to form. She went on to win the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown and the grade 2 Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster at the end of January before heading to the 2017 Cheltenham Festival to be beaten by Apples Jade again. After that, she was 6/4 favourite for the Punchestown Champion Hurdle but was well beaten in 7th – her first ever real underperformance. It later emerged that she had been injured.

Throughout this season, it has been unclear whether Vroum Vroum Mag would stay in training or go to be covered. The decision has been made to run her at Cheltenham, but having her covered is still considered a strong option later on in the season. Mullins’ comments were simply, “She’s in great shape. I didn’t think we’d get her back. She hasn’t been covered yet, but we have plenty of time and she could well be later in the year.”

Of course, if Apples Jade is expected to need the run then the same should be said for Vroum Vroum Mag. However, a look through her past form wouldn’t suggest that there’s any real history of needing a run – she seems to perform to the same standard when fresh as she does when she has run recently. Coming here without having run this season may seem like a negative, but Mullins is more than capable of getting a horse fit and ready for the big day without running them that season. Quevega won this race in 2011, 2013 and 2014 without having run earlier in the season, while Arctic Fire won the County Hurdle without having seen a racecourse last season. Overall at the Cheltenham festival, Mullins has had 4 wins and a place from 11 runners which had yet to run that season.

Buveur D’Air – The Arguments Against

This year’s Champion Hurdle market has been dominated by quite some time by one horse – the reigning Champion Hurdler, Buveur D’Air. With Faugheen failing to show his brilliant best in his last two starts and last year’s juvenile form not working out as well as one might have hoped, Buveur D’Air (currently 4/7 at best) looks like festival banker material.

So, why would we take on the favourite?

The easiest argument that’s been floating around is that it’s hard to retain a Champion Hurdle – Hurricane Fly was well fancied to do so and failed. Really, I can’t take this argument because this year’s Champion Hurdle isn’t just a weak Champion Hurdle, it’s a weak grade 1. The argument that it’s difficult to retain a Champion Hurdle isn’t based on the fact that it’s a gruelling race that takes a lot out of the horse (as could be the case for a Grand National or an Albert Bartlett), but on the fact that the race is generally full of class, with one of last year’s novices coming to challenge or something else emerging. Looking at the list of 11 above, it’s hard to see where that major threat is.

The second argument is that the only defeat of his career since he switched from bumpers to hurdles came at Cheltenham, in the 2016 Supreme. However, that argument can’t really be entertained at all. He was beaten only by Altior and Min in the Supreme (who will be the top two in the market in the Champion Chase the day after this content and both of whom have subsequently proven their class – it was one of the best novice contests in recent memory). That was at the time a career-best performance, probably not bettered until he returned to Cheltenham last March to win this in a stunning fashion. There is no doubt about his ability in terms of the track.

My only real concern (and it is minor) is that Henderson has been quoted more than once as saying that he takes a bit of work. Speaking on February 20th about wishing to take BD for a racecourse gallop, he said: “Buveur D’Air takes an awful lot of work, but he did work this morning. He has not really had a race yet (this season) and he didn’t have a race at Sandown. I would like to work him before racing on Saturday just to get him revved up”. Essentially, the suggestion here is that the lack of competition thus far this season may be a bad thing when it comes to the day itself (this wasn’t enough of a concern for Henderson to take him to Leopardstown for a real race instead of Sandown, of course).

Again, this argument can be countered. Firstly, thinking back to last season, Buveur D’Air was gifted a similarly easy campaign, going off at SP’s of 10/11, 30/100 and 1/4 in his three starts that season. This certainly didn’t have any detrimental effect come the day of the Champion Hurdle. If this was of any concern, Henderson will do whatever he feels is necessary in a racecourse gallop to wind him up a bit more ahead of the day itself. For me, this isn’t anything to lose sleep over.

While his starts this season may not have taken too much effort to win, Buveur D’Air was impressive nonetheless. His hurdling is slick and efficient, and based on what we’ve seen so far he has improved significantly from last season in terms of his jumping. In short, should he run to form, it will take something outstanding to beat him.

Cheltenham: 3 Golden Rules

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The Countdown is On!

As racing fans, only one thing occupies our thoughts at this time of year – the Cheltenham Festival. While we suffer through cold, miserable January days we can dream ahead to Prestbury Park in March and the famous roar as the tapes go up ahead of the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the first race of the festival.

To begin our mission of finding winners over these four fantastic days in the middle of March, I’ve found three golden rules which should be followed at the festival.

1) Grade 1 Winners Win the Gold Cup

It’s generally excepted that the Gold Cup, National Hunt racing’s blue riband event, is the highlight of the week at Cheltenham. One of the most useful and strongest statistics that you will come across is that it is practically a necessity to be a grade 1 winner in order to be competitive in a Gold Cup.

In the last 10 years, 57 horses which had not won a grade 1 ran in the Gold Cup. None of them won and just 4 managed to make the frame. The 69 grade 1 winners, on the other hand, accounted for all 10 winners and the other 26 placed horses – that’s 87% of the total places on offer from just 55% of the total field in the last 10 years.

2) Handicaps Are Not Good Preparation for Festival Grade 1’s

It has been the case for a number of years that horses which had their final prep run in a handicap tend to underperform in the grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival. The stats back up this common observation – 9% of runners in grade 1’s in the last 10 years had their last start in a handicap, but these horses won just 2 of those 127 races.

This record remained as poor as ever last year, with just one placed horse from 19. Well-fancied horses such as Ballyandy and Brain Power had their final prep runs in handicaps and failed to make the frame.

3) Older Horses Should Be Avoided

Cheltenham has always been a chance for rising stars to shine and it pays to side with these younger contenders against the veterans of the game. The classic stat is that horses aged 11 or older do not win at the festival – this held strong last year with no wins and 4 places from 26 runners. There were exceptions in each of the 2 years before that, but overall horses aged 11 or older have performed very poorly, with just 4 wins from 305 horses in the last 10 years.

While horses aged 11 and older are probably best left alone, we should be wary around 10-year-olds too – the only 10yo winners last year were Pacha Du Polder in the Foxhunters and Special Tiara, who was probably gifted a Champion Chase due to Douvan’s injury.

The Triumph – A Champion Hurdle Trial?

It’s often noted that the previous season’s top juvenile hurdlers fail to make the transition into open company, despite having been hugely impressive in their juvenile year. This year, we’re faced with such a dilemma yet again – Defi Du Seuil looked like a wonderful horse and an exciting prospect last season, winning both the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Anniversary Hurdle at Aintree. However, this season he has failed to impress in either of his two starts, finishing 4th of 5 runners at Ascot and 7th of 8 at Leopardstown. Should we simply write off the previous season’s juveniles when considering a Champion Hurdle, or are they were keeping on side?

I’ve taken a look at all of the previous season’s Triumph Hurdle runners to run in the following season’s Champion Hurdle. Here is the list, along with a few conclusions:

2017 Champion Hurdle / 2016 Triumph

Horse Triumph Placing Champion Odds Champion Placing
Footpad 3rd 14/1 4th
Sceau Royal 12th 25/1 6th

2016 Champion Hurdle / 2015 Triumph

Horse Triumph Placing Champion Odds Champion Placing
Peace And Co 1st 16/1 PU
Top Notch 2nd 14/1 5th
Hargam 3rd 16/1 10th

2015 Champion Hurdle / 2014 Triumph

None

2014 Champion Hurdle / 2013 Triumph

Horse Triumph Placing Champion Odds Champion Placing
Our Conor 1st 5/1 F

2013 Champion Hurdle / 2012 Triumph

Horse Triumph Placing Champion Odds Champion Placing
Countrywide Flame 1st 16/1 3rd
Balder Succes F 100/1 UR

2012 Champion Hurdle / 2011 Triumph

Horse Triumph Placing Champion Odds Champion Placing
Zarkandar 1st 9/1 5th
Brampour 9th 50/1 7th

2011 Champion Hurdle / 2010 Triumph

None

2010 Champion Hurdle / 2009 Triumph

Horse Triumph Placing Champion Odds Champion Placing
Zaynar 1st 15/2 3rd
Starluck 4th 14/1 5th
Jumbo Rio 9th 50/1 8th

2009 Champion Hurdle / 2008 Triumph

Horse Triumph Placing Champion Odds Champion Placing
Celestial Halo 1st 17/2 2nd
Won In The Dark 3rd 33/1 10th

2008 Champion Hurdle / 2007 Triumph

Horse Triumph Placing Champion Odds Champion Placing
Katchit 1st 10/1 1st
Punjabi 4th 25/1 3rd

Form of Triumph Winner

12353FP – 1 win and 3 places from 7 runners.

This actually looks better when you break it down:

  • 1st at 10/1
  • 2nd at 17/2
  • 3rd at 15/2
  • 5th at 9/1
  • 3rd at 16/1
  • Fell at 5/1
  • Pulled up at 16/1

If anything, the Triumph winners have performed fairly consistently in the Champion Hurdle – they generally haven’t managed to have quite enough to win the big race the following year, but have done a good job at making the frame at decent prices.

The previous year’s Triumph winners have taken up 6% of the total field in the last 10 years but have managed to make up 13% of the total places on offer. This record may be even better if Our Conor, the shortest-priced Triumph winner in a Champion Hurdle in the last 10 years, had not tragically taken a fatal fall in the early stages of the races, missing out on a chance to show his true talent.

While the record of 5yo’s in winning the Champion Hurdle is famously poor, this record excluding Triumph winners is simply dire. In the last 10 years, 5yo’s (excluding the previous year’s Triumph Hurdle winner) took up 18% of the field but only 7% of the total places, with 2 places filled.

Nicky Henderson in the Supreme

It is always worth noting Nicky Henderson’s strong record in the Supreme:

Year Runners Wins Places W/P W/P%
2017 2 0 1 1 50%
2016 2 1 1 2 100%
2015 1 0 0 0 0%
2014 2 0 2 2 100%
2013 2 0 1 1 50%
2012 2 0 1 1 50%
2011 3 0 2 2 67%
2010 2 0 0 0 0%
2009 1 0 0 0 0%
2008 3 0 1 1 33%
2007 1 0 1 1 100%
2004 2 0 1 1 50%
2003 1 0 1 1 100%

This is something which will be looked into in greater detail between now and the festival as it is quite significant. Ahead of the 2016 festival I viewed his record as being one of a trainer who always just comes up short and saw it as a negative for Altior. Altior’s win caused me to reconsider this view and I noticed just how strong Henderson’s win/place record is. Winners may be fairly rare but he has a seriously consistent strike rate in terms of making the frame – 9 of his 14 runners since 2011 managed to do so, which is a 64% W/P rate from a decent sample size.

The actual form in that time reads 032/92/82/32/4/31/63. The horses to finish 10th, 9th, 8th and 6th had starting prices of 22/1, 12/1, 18/1 and 16/1 respectively.

This year, Henderson is represented by just one horse in the race, Claimantakinforgan.

At the time of writing, Claimantakinforgan can be backed at odds of 16/1 with William Hill. However, William Hill are the only bookmaker offering double winnings in cash on all bets in the race.

If you open an account with William Hill using this link, you’ll receive €30/£30 of free bets once you place your first bet of €10/£10 or more. If you’re interested, take a look at our Free Bets page to find out how you could win some cash prizes from The Parade Ring as well as picking up your free bets. 

The Cheltenham Entries Schedule

From early January, those of us waiting in eager anticipation for the Cheltenham Festival to begin can watch the ante post markets begin to change with entries being made for each of the 28 races.

A number of entries are made each week, beginning with the open grade 1 chases, then the open grade 1 hurdles, then novice chases, novice hurdles, handicaps and other races. Here is a list of the entries made on each date:

January 9th, 2018

  • Queen Mother Champion Chase
  • Ryanair Chase
  • Gold Cup

January 16th, 2018

  • Champion Hurdle
  • Mares Hurdle
  • Stayers Hurdle

January 23rd, 2018

  • Arkle Chase
  • National Hunt Chase
  • RSA Chase
  • JLT Novices Chase

January 30th, 2018

  • Supreme Novices Hurdle
  • Ballymore Novices Hurdle
  • Triumph Hurdle
  • Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle

February 20th, 2018

  • Ultima Handicap Chase
  • Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase
  • Coral Cup
  • Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
  • Pertemps Network Final
  • Festival Plate
  • Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase
  • County Hurdle
  • Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle
  • Grand Annual

February 27th, 2018

  • Cross Country Chase
  • Champion Bumper
  • Mares Novices Hurdle
  • Foxhunter Chase