binocularsSeeyouatmidnight has been declared to run on Saturday in the Betfair Chase. He’s 7/1 at the time of writing and well worth an each way bet.

But the best value lies in his Cheltenham Gold Cup odds of 50/1 (Betfred and Stan James – who have an awful site for finding ante-post bets: it’s under OUTRIGHTS).

SYAM is classy and versatile. He hammered Bristol de Mai last time over 20 furlongs at Carlisle and also finished last season with a 3rd in the Scottish Grand National over 32 furlongs. He’s had just 7 chases and could be improving fast if his Carlisle win is taken fully on merit (I just have a slight doubt that Bristol De Mai ran his race; he never looked comfortable that day, but that could be simply because SYAM never allowed him to. The winner should have the benefit of the doubt until there is more evidence.)

His big festival price will have a fair bit to do with him being trained by a man unknown much beyond the Scottish Borders where he trains fewer than 20 jumpers – Sandy Thomson. Sandy seems determined to campaign the horse seriously as a stayer, although his Carlisle win suggests he could run a big race in the Ryanair.

Anyway, 50/1 should look great value after Saturday, even though Thistlecrack is a beast from another planet and should win the Gold Cup. It would nice to have a backup at a long price in the shape of Seeyouatmidnight. Let’s hope he does not live up to his name.

Good luck


Fox Norton top value at 50/1 for Champion Chase

binocularsA thirty-grand two-mile handicap chase at Cheltenham today and Fox Norton could be called the winner well before they turned down the hill: he was absolutely tanking along. He threw some athletic, energetic leaps, even late in the race and his handicap mark should go up at least 10lbs to 156. That would still leave him a fair bit short of the mark of a normal Champion Chase winner, but he’s only 6 and looks to have come on a ton since last year.

Douvan is 1/1 fav for the Champion Chase just now, but given what can happen between now and then plus Willie’s penchant for changing a horse’s target, I think 50/1 Fox Norton is a good value bet to keep you warm between now and March.

His form suggests he might benefit substantially from a long rest between races and Nick Williams, who used to train him said early last year that he doesn’t want too much racing. Yet, he had a busy season, and finished 3rd in The Arkle.

Also, it might be that proper good ground is important to him and Cheltenham will open on good to soft at best, as it always does (the Champion Chase is on day 2).

Still, a wee bet at 50s represents value, even with those caveats. And, going by my experience, a wee bet is all you will get at 50/1. The only established bookmaker displaying that price is Bet365 who offered me a maximum of £2.50 ( yes, £2.50, not £25.00).

Good luck


This Cheltenham Fence Move Just doesn’t Add Up

cheltenham logoCheltenham’s new season started today. Over the summer, the second-last fence has been moved ‘seven or eight yards’ (Sophia Dale, Cheltenham’s communications manager) closer to the last fence. The fence had only been in-site for 6 years having been moved 239 yards in 2010 from its former position near the foot of the hill before the turn into the straight.

The key reason for the move appears to be that 6 horses fell at the fence at this year’s festival. Cheltenham offered a comparative figure of an average of 3.4 fallers ‘there, between 2007 and 2016’: I assume this is up to and including the 2015 festival, but that is not clear. Nor is it clear why 2007, 08, 09, 10 have been included in the 3.4 figure as the fence was not in position for those festivals.  What might complicate matters further is that from the season the re-sited second-last first came into use (2010/11), runners in races over two miles and two and a half miles had an extra fence to jump.

The less cynical side of me assumes the figures are a communications malfunction and are linked to some of the figures associated with the 4th last fence on the New Course which has also had its position ‘adjusted’. No doubt the executive will clarify at some point. But could there be another reason?

Sophia Dale said, “The faller figures at both fences have been slightly creeping up, so we spoke to the PJA [Professional Jockeys Association], who had given us some feedback anyway, and moved the fence to give the horses a bit more time to get themselves together when they come off the bend.”  Despite possible conflation of casualty figures, it is clear from reference to the bend that, in this quote, SD is talking about the second-last. I wonder what was in that feedback from the PJA, and was it sought or offered?

2010 Move

After the move of the fence into the straight in 2010, jockeys who were asked to test it at what appears to have been a media day said this:

Brennan said: “The ground has never been better and the new fence could not be in a better place. You will still get fallers as it is the second last but they won’t be so severe.”

Sam Waley-Cohen said: “The fence is beautifully presented and I look forward to coming down to it on Long Run.”

Carl Llewellyn said: “I think the fence will be a great improvement – it rides nicely off the bend with plenty of room between the two fences. It will be safer all round.”

By the way, three horses had come down at the fence that morning in the ‘test’. Simon Claisse appeared to assign that to the jockeys having jumped it so well the first time, they were keen to have another go. Claisse:

“They jumped the plain fence and ditch on the back straight and came down the hill over the third last. They were going very fast and seven horses came around the corner – Paddy Brennan, Carl Llewellyn, David England, Sam Waley-Cohen and Sam Twiston-Davies were among those riding – and the bend rode beautifully and they jumped the fence.

“We were happy but Nigel’s gang wanted to do it again. So they went back up the hill to the third last and one of the senior jockeys who is now retired said they went off with their tails on fire.

“We could hear them coming and the first horse hit the fence pretty hard and fell and brought down two others. So we had three jockeys and horses on the deck – fortunately they all got up and were fine and they made some positive remarks about what we had done.”


After that Showcase meeting in 2010, Claisse seemed pleased:

From website:

The fence was jumped 118 times over the two day meeting with only two fallers and a hampered and unseated rider . Claisse said that “the old second last was responsible for 75% of fallers last year so this is a big difference .”

Let’s go back to that ‘seven or eight yards’ difference mentioned by Sophia Dale. In 2010, journalist Jeremy Grayson wrote on the The Racing Forum that he’d read in Robert Thornton’s Racing Post column that Thornton was :

…delighted to discover horses get 15 strides between turn in and the second last fence, then another 16 to the last. Evidently a bit more space to play with than anyone, myself included, had necessarily reckoned with.

I can’t find that original Thornton quote on the RP site, but I have immense respect for Jeremy and am happy to take his word for it.

So, 15 strides from the turn-in now becomes 16 strides, leaving only 15 strides to the last; we must wait and see what effect that has. And does that single stride that’s been gained really make such a difference? Could it be that the faller figures “slightly creeping up” (SD), could be something to do with the way the fence is being ridden? If so, what will jockeys use their extra stride for?

Or might it be that the fence was sited wrongly in 2010? Was it perhaps an error that Cheltenham were reluctant to admit to relatively soon after the change was made? Cheltenham’s communications error (or obfuscation) today certainly hasn’t helped. One prominent journalist was fobbed off when requesting more information on the figures, apparently with the excuse it was a busy raceday today.

I suspect all is not as it seems here.

I’ll leave the Racing Post‘s Nic Doggett to sign off with a highly prescient piece from six years ago, written just after the Paddy Power meeting.


A lot has been written about the re-siting of the infamous second last but from the evidence of this meeting the historically troublesome obstacle is still just that.

Two fallers in the Novices’ Chase won by Wayward Prince brought the total number of fallers at the new fence to seven, a whopping 50% of all fallers at the track since it was moved.

Fences late in a race will always be responsible for tired fallers, however I cannot help but wonder whether the new position is at an awkward spot for horses because of its proximity to the stand.

The noise and sight of the grandstands really hit you when turning for home and this must be distracting for horses. Couple this with tiredness. Then add in what appears to be a landing area that looks slightly too low, and I think it will continue to cause problems.

The worry is that it’s hard to move the fence further up the run-in because then you’d have an inadequate gap between the final two fences, but put it back much and it’s too close to the bend.

This looks likely to run on and on, I suppose much like the argument over the old siting did, and I can’t think think of any easy solutions. Can you?


Don’t back Don Cossack for the Gold Cup

riskAnother informative run from Don Cossack today. He has a very awkward action, especially behind where both feet come out almost like a breast-stroking swimmer – he tends to do it more with his off-hind. I suspect it’s this action that makes him tilt his head quite often (much more noticeable rounding bends, or when initially trying to pick up under pressure). His ears go one way, his nose the opposite. At Kempton his nose went left, at Aintree it went right. His long stride too makes it very difficult for him to put in a short one; he can do it, but it tends to break his rhythm and lose him ground. He also jumps quite flat at times, and I think he’s going to need an awful lot of luck at Cheltenham to win a Gold Cup.

He’s a horse I’ve always liked, and I backed him to win the Betfair Million (he did not run in leg 1). But the more I see of him, the more inclined I am to keep my cash in my pocket.

He has a mighty engine, but that action looks even more awkward coming down the hill at Cheltenham. All in all, I think he’s going to find things happening too quickly for him. It’s highly unlikely he’ll get into a rhythm, and he’ll probably belt at least one, and need scrubbing along. I don’t think headgear will make a jot of difference. He strikes me as a most honest horse, and not at all lazy; it’s just that when something happens that requires a quick move from him, he cannot make it; he’s just too big and gangly.

It’s not just errors that cause him problems. When Vautour took it up in the King George and raised the pace, Don Cossack could not go with them and got shuffled back. That pace increase happened as they went into a bend, which disadvantaged him further.

He’ll be a place lay for me in the Gold Cup where I suspect young Cooper will be aboard Don Poli.

12/1 a 3/1 chance in the Ryanair? Ptit Zig

P Zig

UPDATE: 11 January 2016  If you are a latecomer to this post, be aware that the trainer says that although PZ will get a Ryanair entry, he will return to hurdles on his next outing.

I’m afraid that since I tipped him, he’s managed to tip himself up – twice, and even if he runs in the Ryanair, the last thing you’d call him now is a value bet.

Apologies to those who took my advice at the outset!

Ante-post betting can be dangerous. If your horse doesn’t turn up on the day, your cash is lost. However, when you get it right, it can be lucrative, and give you a lot of personal satisfaction. When placing an ante-post bet, you need to weigh up the following:

Is the horse likely to run?

Which of its rivals in the betting are likely to run?

Will the price shorten significantly enough to justify the long term risk?

Is the animal sound enough to rely upon, barring accidents?

You can marshall facts, but the biggest decider will be your experience and, often, your instinct. From time to time, a race is priced which appears to throw up an opportunity as close to ante-post perfection as you’ll get. The last one I recall is the  2013 King George, when Cue Card was available at 12/1 early in the year, despite the fact that the front 4 or 5 in the betting looked doubtful runners. Had Cue Card not gone wrong two out at Kempton, the biggest ante-post bet of my fairly long life would have been landed. Still, a couple of years on, I think I might just have found another one.

Here’s the current betting from Stan James for the Ryanair Chase in March:

  • 11/4 Vautour
  • 5/1 Cue Card
  • 7/1 Don Cossack
  • 12/1 Ptit Zig
  • 12/1 Valseur Lido
  • 12/1 Sprinter Sacre
  • 12/1 Vroum Vroum Mag
  • 14/1 Simonsig
  • 14/1 Sound Investment
  • 16/1 Road to Riches

The current intentions  of connections, gathered from reading race reports, stable tours, blogs etc suggest that the following are likely to be seen in the Gold Cup, not the Ryanair:


Cue Card

Don Cossack

Road to Riches

The QM Champion Chase is the likely destination for Sprinter Sacre, who might be joined there by Simonsig (though I wouldn’t be surprised to see the grey return to hurdling full time).

Valseur Lido could also end up in the Gold Cup as connections appear to believe stamina is his strong suit. Vroum Vroum Mag might run in the Ryanair, but I doubt she’ll have accumulated sufficient tough-it-out experience by March. Also, she has yet to run left-handed outside France (she has an entry at Carlisle at the time of writing, another right-handed track).

Should all of the above pan out (unlikely, but far from impossible), that leaves the Nicholls pair, Ptit Zig and Sound Investment. The latter is a fast-improving handicapper, who could run well. Ptit Zig is a horse bordering on top class. He is also much more likely to run here than in the QM or the Gold Cup. The QM would mean facing a potential superstar in Un De Sceaux as well as a rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre. The Gold Cup would see him taking on arguably the best field in the history of the race, over a trip he’s not at all sure to stay.

Ptit Zig ran Vautour pretty close on Saturday, giving the Gold Cup favourite five pounds, a performance which brought brickbats raining down on the Irish horse rather than bouquets on PZ. I think it will turn out to be very good form indeed. Prior to that, Ptit Zig had won easily in Ireland on his seasonal debut. In the JLT, he was routed and gutted by Vautour, but so was everything else in that field. Ptit Zig does have a Cheltenham victory, having won there last January. Nicholls has always thought a lot of him (he ran him in the 2014 Champion Hurdle). I’ve a feeling Ptit Zig will progress this year much the way the yard’s Dodging Bullets did last year.

Crucially, Ptit Zig is the one horse in the above betting list who looks most likely to turn up in the Ryanair. Nothing is certain, but that risk is more than built into the price of 12/1.  If my hypothesis proves correct, he’s unlikely to be bigger than 3/1 on the day.

Good luck





The quick and easy way to profit at the Cheltenham festival

cashA Huckster headline, if ever you saw one, eh?

But I’m fascinated by the amount of time invested in trying to find winners at Cheltenham in March. “1 of 237,000” might be the result of a Google search for ‘Festival Previews’. There are books, blogs, YouTube videos, RUK and ATR specials, stable visits. Some punters  plan days to set aside for form study, and to what end?

I can’t recall the last time I studied form for a Cheltenham bet. Most of my betting is ante-post, seeking value about horses I know well, or ones I suspect will prove to be much better than they’ve shown. Come Tuesday, I don’t want to be scrabbling to pick winners; I’d rather relax and  enjoy four days of superb racing.

One thing that has held strong in Festival after Festival, is that previous winners, or horses who have run really well there, have a  fine chance of doing so again. The excellent Timeform guru Simon Rowlands breaks the figures down to prove the case for this ‘system’. For those who want to avoid the labour of ploughing through acres of print and horse of video – Simon’s study is the one for you.

The study is based on the previous 4 Festivals. Here’s a quote from it:

The 78 horses returning having won at the previous Festival were successful in 20 races, more than three times what could be expected by chance…

Why should horses repeatedly run well at the Festival? Well, many are simply classy horses. But many more are handicappers. Trainers prime their horses for the Festival – true. Course winners always have an advantage? Applying this assumption across all courses would, I think, find you in the grubber after four days.

My guess is that the key to this system is a combination of the track and the way races are run here. You could send out the same field, in the same conditions in January and you’d get a different result. At the Festival, races are invariably run at a hotter pace than they would be at any other time on this track or any track. To the jockeys, this meeting  is everything. Adrenaline and desire push them all to go a stride faster in every race than they normally would. 60,000 bawling throats in the stands urge them on. The best horse does not always win, but the one who likes the pace at which these races are run on this unique track, the animals unfazed by crowds and brass bands and keyed-up jocks and anxious starters…these are the horses to concentrate on.

A very successful punter from the past – it might have been Pittsburgh Phil – I can’t remember, said something like: ‘I never started making money from betting until I stopped comparing horses to their rivals and started comparing them with themselves.’  Wise words. Under what conditions does a horse perform to its best? If you can replicate those conditions, all else being equal, the horses have a great chance of replicating their performance.

Perhaps Rod Street and his team at Great British Racing, should campaign for jocks on such horses to wear a big sign on the back of their silks: ‘Been here. Done that. Got the trophy.’ Failing that, the Racing Post offers a very helpful daily summary of runners returning from past Festivals.

Make the best of it.

I will post one or two tips next week, if something looks outstanding value. But you could do an awful lot worse than just back these Festival lovers and sit back and enjoy the show.

Good luck.