Enda Bolger was the cross-country genius when the race was first introduced to the Cheltenham Festival. His horses came into this better prepared than any others. While he still has a reputation for being the man to follow in this race, his record has not been as strong in recent years – in fact, he hasn’t trained the winner on the day since 2009, despite having had 24 runners in that period of time (I say on the day as Josies Orders was eventually named the winner after Any Currency was disqualified after winning in 2016). Interestingly, he trained the favourite in 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2017. My theory would be that despite his record in the race having deteriorated significantly, his reputation is factored into the price of his horses in the race – they tend not to represent value for this reason.
The reason for this may be the growing trend of trainers bringing their horses to Cheltenham before the festival in order to school them over the cross-country course. This could mean that Bolger’s edge is decreasing. It could also mean that proven cross-country specialists are no longer the horses to follow in the race, as they might not have the advantage that the form book suggests.
Auvergnat is one such cross-country specialist from Bolger’s yard. Since arriving from Jonjo O’Neill in 2016, 6 of his 11 starts for Bolger have come over banks either at Cheltenham or Punchestown. His form in such races reads 3U14F1 – Punchestown may well be the preference (311 compared to U4F at Cheltenham). Having said that, he finished a creditable 4th in this race last year in what was a respectable effort. That piece of form gives him over 11 lengths to find with Cause Of Causes, however.
- Overall Record: 20 runs – 3 wins – 5 places
- Cheltenham record: 3-0-0
- Unseated in a 3m 6f Cross Country Chase in January 2017
- 4th in this race in 2017
- Fell in a 3m 6f Cross Country Chase in November 2017
- He probably prefers a cut in the ground – 12-3-4 on yielding to soft or worse, 8-0-1 on yielding or better
- The majority of jockeys have only rode him once so there’s no point in giving a full list. The one worth noting is Mark Walsh (3-1-1).
- He has a strong record in February (4-2-1) and while it drops in March (2-0-0) it’s 2-1-0 in May. He may be seen at his best at the end of the season.
- His record is far better at right-handed tracks – 11-2-5 compared to 9-1-0 going left-handed.
The second Bolger horse in the field is Cantlow. He also arrived in Bolger’s yard in 2016 and began to be campaigned in cross-country races. Like Auvergnat, he might prefer Punchestown, where his form reads 2212, compared to 012342 at Cheltenham – however, the latter record is more than respectable. He was only 11th in this race in 2016 but, having found form the following winter and putting in a good run to finish 2nd over course and distance in January 2017, he went off favourite last year and finished 3rd. Like Auvergnat, this leaves him with form to reverse with Cause Of Causes, who finished 10 lengths ahead of him that day.
- Overall Record: 46 runs – 7 wins – 12 places
- Cheltenham record: 11-1-5
- 10th in a handicap hurdle in November 2011
- 3rd in the Pertemps Final in March 2012
- 2nd in a grade 3 2m 5f handicap chase in December 2013
- Fell in the Festival Plate in March 2014
- 13th in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November 2014
- 10th in this race in 2016
- Won over course and distance in December 2016
- 2nd over course and distance in January 2017
- 3rd in this race in March 2017
- 4th over course and distance in November 2017
- 2nd over course and distance in December 2017
- Completely versatile in terms of ground – records range from 3-1-2 on good to firm, to 6-2-2 on heavy.
- A few noteworthy jockey’s records include Mark Walsh (8-3-1), Adrian Heskin (2-0-2) and Nina Carberry (2-0-2).
- He seems to love small fields (5-3-2) in fields of 7 or less. Even in moderately sized fields he has a decent record (27-7-8 in fields of 15 runners or less) but large fields seem to be a disadvantage (19-0-4 in fields of 16 or more).
- All of his wins have come when back out within 30 days of his last start (21-7-5). However, he’s just 7-0-2 when back out within 15 days of his last start. 24-0-7 when back after a break of over 30 days (10-0-1 when back out after over 60 days).
The most fancied of Bolger’s 4 runners at the time of writing, Josies Orders technically won this race in 2016 despite having passed the post in 2nd, with winner Any Currency later being disqualified, having tested positive for a banned substance. Another recruit from Jonjo O’Neill’s yard, Josie’s Orders seems to love the Cheltenham cross-country course, with form of 1113 there including his win in this race. His form over the banks at Punchestown reads U122. This season he finished 3rd over course and distance in December before putting in an awful run in a handicap hurdle in Cork at the beginning of January, before coming back to form last month over the banks at Punchestown, finishing 2nd behind Auvergnat.
- Overall Record: 30 runs – 7 wins – 5 places
- Cheltenham record: 5-3-1
- 22nd in the Pertemps Final in March 2014
- Won over course and distance in November 2015
- Won over course and distance in December 2015
- Won this race in 2016 (after first past the post was disqualified)
- 3rd over course and distance in December 2017
- Good ground would probably be the preference – 16-5-3 on good to soft or better, 14-2-2 on soft or worse.
- Nina Carberry is the main jockey worth noting – 5-4-0 is an outstanding record. Mark Walsh is 5-0-3 and M J Linehan is 3-1-0.
- His win record suggests a preference for larger fields (16-5-1 in fields of 12 runners or more, 14-2-4 in fields of 11 or less). However, these are fairly similar place records.
- 7-0-0 after a break of over 60 days. 22-7-4 after a shorter break.
- He seems to really shine during the first half of the season – 19-5-4 from October to December, 10-2-1 from January to May.
My Hometown would be considered the outside of the Bolger quartet, with 29 lengths to find with Auvergnat from Punchestown last month. That was only his third start in cross-country races, with a respectable 4th over the banks at Punchestown last November and a 6th place finish over this course and distance in December.
- Overall Record: 15 runs – 1 win – 0 places
- Cheltenham record: 1-0-0
- 6th over course and distance in December
- His sole success came on heavy ground at Limerick in a maiden hurdle.
- Obviously it’s more or less impossible for us to create a profile for this horse on the same basis as the others, as he has just one win to his name and no places.