Cheltenham tips

qmWell, the time has come to face the ante-post jury for a cold judgement of where we are as we approach festival week. Most of my tipping is done in tweets these days, although my wording does seem to cause a few chuckles. For those I believe you should have the maximum bet on that you can afford, my tweet begins ‘I strongly recommend . . .’ (The last one of those was an EW recommendation for Cue Card in the Champion Chase at 8/1 NRNB). My last ‘live’ one was for Cue Card at Ascot,  strongly recommending that the 7/2 Cue Card be taken on the Tuesday before the Ascot race – Cue Card won at 15/8.

Any of my tweets other than that might say something like, ‘this should run well, this will outrun its price, such and such is worth a small bet’.  So starting a tweet ‘I strongly recommend’ means I will be having my maximum bet on it.

A wealth warning here. I’m not a tipster. I run this blog and my twitter account for fun and because I enjoy the company and the craic. I know a few ‘connections’, owners, trainers jockeys but I never listen to tips from them, never. They are in this business because they are optimists. They are blinded by that optimism to the abilities of many of their opponents. Their judgement is not to be trusted.

I still listen to them, and read post-race comments because you can occasionally pick up something about a horse’s character, going preference, future targets. Occasionally, my ears prick up when a trainer or jock breaks with their ‘normal’ style. For example, Nicky Henderson has been talking about nothing except Binocular for weeks and is still going on about how well the horse is. Grandouet has been a fair bit shorter in the betting than Binocular for some time, yet we’ve heard little praise for him (though it now seems as though he might not have been burning up the gallops). I always thought Binocular over-rated and have never backed him, but I’ve had an EW bet on the strength of Henderson’s confidence and what I thought was a really nice prep run last time.

Had it not been for the fact that Binocular has not won going left-handed (Cheltenham is left-handed – anti-clockwise) for 3 years, I’d have had a decent bet.


Back to the caveats about betting tips . . . So I don’t have ‘inside info’ (true inside information is rare and almost never makes its way out to the likes of you and me) and I don’t study form or watch racing regularly. I watch the bigger races at weekends and if something catches my eye, I will note it. 50% of my annual betting would be ante-post on Cheltenham. If I think a horse is value, I’m happy to bet it many months in advance and take the chance of losing my cash if the horse doesn’t turn up on the day (those are standard ante-post rules, and that’s why so many punters wait for bookies to offer Non-runner No bet).

Anyway, I have no system or sequence. I am happy to trust my own judgement. Many people shy away from going against the pros – TV Tipsters, Timeform-writers,  etc. I say learn to trust yourself once you’ve found a style of analysis and betting that suits. You’ll be wrong plenty times. I’ll be wrong plenty times. But don’t get  yourself into financial trouble by risking more than you can afford, and don’t lose your confidence after a bad run. You are never as good as you think you are and never as bad as you think you are.

Okay, what have we in the Blog’s locker for this year? I blog a selection rather than tweeting it when I think some explanation is needed.


My first tip for the 2013 Festival was made about two weeks after the end of the 2012 one: Sanctuaire EW for the QM Champion Chase at 50/1.

It looked very sweet after Sanctuaire skated up at Sandown routing a decent bunch, unfortunately, the old Sanctuaire is back this season; inconsistent with RPRs of 155, 171, 143. Unless he finds his sparkle from last year, I fear we have little chance now of collecting on this bet, although some of you, I hope, will have traded out on Betfair at around 8s before his seasonal debut.

Al Ferof for Ryanair at 16s

I tipped this just before the Paddy Power where I fancied the grey strongly, and he was cut to 8s for The Ryanair after winning the PP. But not long after the cash was down the horse was finished for the season when suffering a stress fracture. As it turns out, I’d now be torn between him and Cue Card. Cue Card is the better horse imo, but Al Ferof loves the track and the ground would have suited him.


Back in Focus at 20s for RSA

This one will be particularly annoying! I backed him at 20s, he is half that price now but, frustratingly, looks like he’ll run in the NH Chase over 4 miles. Now considering the fact that I’ve backed Rival D’Estruval for the NH Chase at 12/1 (now 5/1), I need not tell you that BIF will come and beat him a short head!

Olofi at 100/1 for Champion Hurdle

He won The Greatwood (now The Racing Post Hdl), a race in which I’ve found a few champs, and although this was sub-standard for this race I suggested a fiver at 100/1 in case it came up testing. He looked like he’d finally hit the starting blocks for his career here, but he was tailed off next time in The Ladbroke and hasn’t been seen since. I’m assuming he’s gone amiss.

My final ante-post recommendation via this blog was Oscar Whisky at 7/1 for the World Hurdle. This was posted just after it was announced that Big Buck’s would miss the race. 7/1 seemed a crazy price about a horse who finishes his two-and-a-half-mile races so powerfully that I just do not believe he can’t get 3 miles. I had a decent bet on him to prove just that in The Cleeve hurdle but he was ridden  conservatively that day and failed to catch Reve de Sivola.

Afterwards, jockey Barry Geraghty reportedly said that Oscar had shown none of his sparkle, and he’d been concerned about him from early in the race. The forecast soft ground will probably see him start at around 4/1 on Thursday and I’m still fairly confident he will win. the World Hurdle is rarely run at a hot pace – they regularly just hack for the first circuit. Doubtless there’ll be those wishing to test OW’s stamina to the full, but there will need to be a balance between trying to draw his sting and jeopardising your own chance in the race.

Many of you will know I have tweeted regularly throughout the season about my confidence that Zarkandar and Bobs Worth have been trading far too big for the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, almost all season. My first bet on them was 8/1 both. They’ve come steadily down recently, but I am still amazed and how long their prices held up for EW double purposes. After The Hennessy I posted a tweet saying I reckoned Bobs Worth should be no more than 7/2 for The Gold Cup, yet 5s remained available for many weeks.

One horse I advised recently via twitter was The New One at 7s for The Neptune with a small saver in case he went for The Supreme. Given the way things have turned out with the ground, I think his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies will regret having taken him out of The Supreme. The horse has plenty speed and I’d fancy his chances much more of beating My Tent or Yours than I do of him beating this Irish hotpot Pont Alexandre.

I still believe he has an excellent chance of winning the Neptune. He’ll be dwarfed by the Irish favourite, a wonderful looking big slashing bay whose build even now would see him fit into the parade for The Gold Cup. The New One is much smaller, but he is very well put together and one of the most athletic movers I’ve seen over hurdles. He has a high cruising speed and a deadly turn of foot which was used up too soon last time. I’d expect him to be prominent throughout on Wednesday and to be held on to till after the last before delivering what I hope will be a killer challenge.

Two caveats: he is not the slickest of jumpers though seems to be improving with each race: there is a bug in the yard that has knocked out three proposed festival runners. TNO worked very well on Friday morning but sometimes the virus can lie low in a horse, erupting only when the animal is put under pressure. Although I think Pont Alexandre a fine prospect, I fear the yard bug more than the Irish giant. Whatever happens, I think The New One will eventually go to the top.

One other strong festival advice I posted on twitter was an EW double on Zarkandar and Silviniaco Conti when both were 5/1. I’ve never known quite what to make of Silviniaco Conti’s form; until Newbury last time I would not have feared him endangering Bobs Worth.  SC isn’t much to look at and, like Bobs Worth, he’s not flashy in his running or jumping style. But handsome is as handsome does and his form now has a very solid look to it. He jumps, he stays, he has class and is still improving.

I suspect Bobs Worth has more improvement in him though; this will be just his 6th start over fences and his fifth outing at Cheltenham where he has a 100% record. I think he is a very good horse indeed and I suspect he and Silv Conti will finish some way clear of the others. I cannot remember the last time I had a reverse forecast, never mind in the Gold Cup, but I think I’ll be doing just that here.


I offer you my nap of the week – Cue Card, the most unpopular top class horse I’ve ever come across. People crib him for his head carriage (slightly high, which can signify a mental or physical problem with a horse), for his supposed need to ‘be alone’ up front, for his jockey, for his ‘disinclination to battle’, doubtless there’ll be other reasons before he lines up, (almost certainly) in The Ryanair on Thursday. It’s not impossible there’ll be a change of mind as his trainer has left him in the Champion Chase. If the ground’s like glue on day one, he might yet be rerouted to the 2 mile race. Again, last week I offered a ‘strongly recommend’ tweet to bet him each way at 8/1 for the QM non-runner-no-bet. He is far and away the 2nd best two-miler in the country and would be very difficult to keep out of a place. If Sprinter Sacre went wrong in some way, he’d dot up in the QM, I think.

But even in the Ryanair, even in bad ground, I will bet him with confidence as I have done since the start of his fencing career. His form is gold-plated in my opinion. He is, in general, a sound jumper and the key to his clean jumping, I feel, is a good pace. He doesn’t necessarily need to be in front; Joe Tizzard puts him there to ensure he gets the pace required to have a cut at his fences, which, to my eye, is the horse’s natural inclination.

Joe Tizzard though, will now only let him have a cut when Joe is confident he sees the stride; otherwise he lets the horse fiddle. A perfect example of this was in his third race over fences. He came to the last at Newbury having led pretty much throughout and put in a good round, he was three or four clear going to the last but JT decided to sit still and let him fiddle. The jock then made the situation worse by having a look round on landing (a habit he had for a while which he now seems to be shaking off), which didn’t help Cue Card’s balance. Anyway, he was caught in the last stride and beaten a short head by Bobs Worth.

Bobs Worth is a year older than Cue Card. Cue Card gave him half a stone that day. You might want to read that last sentence again.

Cue Card gave the year-older Bobs Worth, the same horse who went on to win the RSA, to open this season with a Hennessy win, to be 3s fav for Friday’s Gold Cup, half a stone. Had he jumped the last he’d have won a length or two.

Okay, it was Bobs Worth’s fencing debut and his seasonal debut (he’s no slouch first time out, as he’s shown). But it was only Cue Card’s third chase. On his fencing debut he thrashed Silv Conti, now 2nd best for the Gold Cup. In between those he started jt fav with Grands Crus, to whom he was conceding 5lbs (GC was flying at the time) only to unseat at the 11th, teaching his connections the valuable lesson that the horse disliked restraint and wanted to be travelling at pace.

After the Newbury defeat by BW, he went back there to give For Non Stop half a stone and a 4L beating (Walkon, levels, was 11 lengths farther back). Cue Card then ran into the unstoppable Sprinter Sacre in The Arkle, beaten 7 lengths over a trip I believe to be short of his best (he stayed on well up the hill – it was the shortest trip CC has ever tried over jumps).

His seasonal debut saw him trounce Edgardo Sol by 26L and Menorah by 34L on his first attempt right-handed over 18f at Exeter. I then had the biggest bet I’ve had for a long time that he’d win the King George. I knew my fate at the first where he was on his nose, and he made another mistake at the 2nd. The KG ground was heavy for the first time since 1937 and many believe he didn’t get the trip. He certainly would have preferred better ground, but I think the early mistakes took their toll more than the going did, and I’d love to see him have another crack at the race on decent ground.

I managed to get my KG losses back through Coral being ultra generous, as they often are with this horse, when going 7/2 against him winning The Betfair Ascot Chase last month. He did so in some style (2m 5 and a half furlongs on soft ground on a stiff track). But the doubters were out in force again. Apparently CC was 3/1 in running as Captain Chris came to challenge, despite the fact that Cap Chris had been under strong driving from three out when all Joe Tizzard had done was change rein. JT later reported he’d still two gears in reserve and the horse won easily.

So, the upside of Cue Card not getting the recognition he deserves is that he will be a point or two longer in the betting for the Ryanair than he should be.  As I always do, I have backed him (NRNB) with considerable confidence and I look forward to him making many people eat their hats.

Before I go, there’s another Tizzard horse which is well over-priced: Third Intention in the Jewson. He’s a horse I’ve been watching for a couple of seasons as I believe he will win at least one good race, probably more than one. He almost won last time at Sandown but idled on the run-in and Captain Conan beat him a neck. Cap Conan had beaten him twice before, easily, but that had been over the minimum trip. Third Intention almost turned the tables at 20f, The Jewson trip. Cap Conan is 4/1 for the Jewson – Third Intention is 16/1 – daft.

Third Intention ran well last year in The Coral Cup, finishing 8th of 28 carrying 11st 10lb. Arguably, he’d have preferred better ground but it was heavy last time when he ran so well. This will be his 6th Chase, and he is improving: he is at least twice the price he should be at 16s and I strongly recommend an EW bet on him NRNB. Expect to see Joe Tizzard hold onto him till after the last this time.

This blog will probably be pretty quiet throughout the festival but if I fancy anything I will tweet it.

Enjoy the festival, don’t risk too much because people like me, with strong opinions are often wrong. And horses are pretty crazy too: they probably have more quirks and personality disorders than humans do. In 1967 when I used to skip school to work at my local racing stable, Sun Tonic, a beautiful big chestnut with four white socks loved being hosed down with nice clean water. But AP McCoy could not have got him to step into a puddle: if he couldn’t walk round it, he’d plant himself and you had to turn back. Last week I heard of a horse who was afraid of the dark!

sad horse

They kick at one end, bite at the other, and nobody can be sure what’s going through their heads during a race. Machines, they are not!

Have a brilliant Cheltenham, and, if you’re a reader and like Dick Francis-type mysteries, give Warned Off a try. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app for free on pretty much any device, including a good old fashioned PC.

All the best



Cheltenham’s Old Course, the New Course and the effects of the going

spyglassDuring the coming week you’ll hear much talk of the Old Course and the New Course at Cheltenham.  In October and November the Old Course is used, in December and January, the New Course. That’s the regular schedule. Only the spur was not used in January due to waterlogging.

Frost covers are already down. There’s been enough rain for the course to be declared officially soft everywhere and overnight temperatures in the coming 48 hours are set to plunge well below freezing, The upside of frost covers is that we almost always get to race. The downside is that they can trap moisture in ground that’s already very wet; this can leave sticky, cloying going for horses, although Andy Clifton, Cheltenham’s PR boss tells me the covers are breathable so let’s hope they breathe enough to prevent pudding-type ground but not enough to let frost through.

Frost covers

Sandown on Saturday looked sploshy and very wet, but horses and riders invariably prefer this as horses run through it, finding it easier to splash through than sticky ‘waterless’ mud. They’ll still be tired but  not Tough Mudder tired.

Cheltenham’s a stamina-sapper as it is, and while it’s almost always better to race than not to, we could see some very tired animals slogging up that hill. Let’s hope for minimal use of the stick: the public will not be aware how well-padded whips are, and hitting exhausted horses climbing a muddy hill could bring us the kind of publicity we’d don’t need with the Grand National looming (April 6th).

Anyway, I am blethering away here, let me get to the point. The Racing Post carries just one course graphic for Cheltenham – that of the Old Course. The blessed Timeform display two. I’ve used them below. You can get them, along with course maps for every other track as a free download.

Although it’s a taxing track, whichever course you’re on, I’m never afraid to back front-runners at Cheltenham; I have no stats but from my many years watching racing here, I’ve formed the impression front-runners can do better than they would on tracks which appear to be easier.

Cheltenham's New Course
Cheltenham’s New Course

Something you’ll hear at least once before the Champion Hurdle is that Zarkandar won his Triumph Hurdle in 2011 on the New Course whereas the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday will be on the Old Course, considered by many less of a stamina test because it is a slightly shorter run-in (In Tuesday’s field, Zarkandar should be much better suited than most of his rivals to a stamina test).

A peculiarity of the New Course is that only 2 hurdles are jumped in the last seven furlongs – 42% of the race gets  just 25% of the jumps.

The Old Course
The Old Course

The only other course at Cheltenham is the cross-country, a race you love or hate. I love it. I enjoy the spectacle of watching the jocks figuring out the twists and turns (many don’t manage it!). I like to see the horses scale the banks and face all different sorts of obstacles. Racing should have more of them – I’d be amazed if newcomers to the sport, especially youngsters, don’t enjoy them.

You’ll see by the map why the jocks need a GPS (some senior jockeys refuse to ride in these races for fear of ‘taking the wrong course’ bans).

The map and the fence illustration are courtesy of the talented folk at Chestnut Creative



Let’s hope the Cheltenham exec has updated the signage for jockeys on this maze of a course. We don’t want to see something like this happening this week . . .


Finally, an aerial pic of the track to give you a truer perspective on how the courses wind through those famous undulations in our modern-day Colosseum, where you can gaze in horror while live humans are devoured by bookmakers.

Cheltenham racecourse
Cheltenham racecourse

If your brain needs a break from form study, try the Kindle version of Warned Off, a snip at £2.50. It’s a Dick Francis-type mystery which has garnered 95 reviews on Amazon (UK &.com), most 4 & 5 star.

Good Luck for Cheltenham



Banjo Paterson on Binocular

Banjo Paterson
Banjo Paterson

Had he not kicked the bucket 72 years ago here’s what good old Banjo Paterson would have said about AP’s Binocular ride today


Riders in the Stand

There’s some that ride the Robbo style, and bump at every stride;
While others sit a long way back, to get a longer ride.
There’s some that ride like sailors do, with legs and arms, and teeth;
And some ride on the horse’s neck, and some ride underneath.

But all the finest horsemen out — the men to Beat the Band —
You’ll find amongst the crowd that ride their races in the Stand.
They’ll say “He had the race in hand, and lost it in the straight.”
They’ll show how Godby came too soon, and Barden came too late.

They’ll say Chevalley lost his nerve, and Regan lost his head;
They’ll tell how one was “livened up” and something else was “dead” —
In fact, the race was never run on sea, or sky, or land,
But what you’d get it better done by riders in the Stand.

The rule holds good in everything in life’s uncertain fight;
You’ll find the winner can’t go wrong, the loser can’t go right.
You ride a slashing race, and lose — by one and all you’re banned!
Ride like a bag of flour, and win — they’ll cheer you in the Stand.

Sprinter Sacre V Red Rum – a good marketing tactic for racing?

national_jumpersWe have another good horse on our hands, perhaps a great one, in Sprinter Sacre. He runs fast, jumps well and looks good. Racing For Change will be seeking ways to make the best of him and his promise. Unlike Frankel, we know that, barring injury, Sprinter Sacre will be around for a few years, which is a further bonus.

But how do you get across to a non-racing person just how exciting a horse is? That is always the problem. People have no current context to place Frankel or Sprinter Sacre in.

It’s fine for us to cry brilliance and speed and but even we, the experts, would be hard pushed to just look at a horse or a race outside of the context we are used to. Think about this: you lose your memory and spend some time in hospital.  One sunny day you wake up and see a race on TV, a dozen horses galloping round Tattenham Corner. Fairgrounds and cheering crowds are in the background but the sound is turned down.

Would you be willing to bet you are watching The Derby?  Could it be a class 3 handicap? A selling plate?

Horses running fast mean little to non-racing folk. With football, everybody can applaud a wonderful goal; they know how difficult it is to score one, even if they’ve never played the game.

So how do we convey the brilliance of good horses? How about circulating a nice colour graphic to the media showing Red Rum only halfway along the Grand National run-in while Sprinter Sacre is passing the post? “When Red Rum was the same age as Sprinter Sacre, this is how far behind he would have been.”

You needn’t go in to ratings, or different trips to complicate matters. To many, Red Rum was the greatest horse of all time: full stop. Racing should use that perception to help the public give some context and to whet appetites for coming along to see ‘The horse who would have hammered Red Rum”


Can one horse ‘break the heart’ of another?

sad horseReading a post on The Racing Forum, someone suggested that Big Buck’s had, perhaps, broken horses like Punchestowns.

They used to say Arkle broke Mill House’s heart.

Do you think horses have the emotional capacity to feel humiliated or psychologically battered by not being able to catch a rival?

Does a horse even see another one as a rival? Racehorses are not competing for food, although it might be argued that some genetic/historic drive compels them to compete not to end up as food by leaving others behind for predators?

But even that tactic might be questionable; many would see the safest place to ‘hide’ would be in the middle of the herd.

If only they could talk!

All thoughts most welcome in the comments section


Paul Roy finally meets his match

A man in a hot air balloon is lost. He sees a man on the ground and reduces height to speak to him.

“Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?”

“You’re in a hot air balloon hovering thirty feet above this field,” comes the reply.

“You must work in Information Technology,” says the balloonist.

“I do,” says the man, “How did you know?”

“Well,” says the balloonist, “Everything you told me is technically correct, but it’s no use to anyone.”

“You must be Paul Roy of the BHA,” says the man.

“I am,” says the balloonist, preening himself.  “How did you know?”

“Well,” says the man, “You don’t know where you are, you don’t know where you’re going, but you expect me to be able to help. You’re in the same position you were before we met, but now it’s my fault.”

BHA new whip rules structure followed the perfect project model

Although the new whip rules project has raised much dispute and emotion in the racing fraternity, most people who’ve worked in a large organisation, public or private, would barely have raised an eyebrow.  They recognise that all projects follow exactly the same six phases:


1 Enthusiasm

2 Disillusionment

3 Panic

4 Search for the guilty

5 Punishment of the innocent

6 Praise and honours for the non-participants