Sad news! “BetVictor step in to replace Paddy Power as sponsors of the Open meeting at Cheltenham in November” There goes the freebie!
I said it last year and I will say it again. Willie Mullins tells it straight. Ruby Walsh and Patrick Mullins muddy the waters!
#CHELTENHAM GROUND UPDATE
Cheltenham’s clerk of the course Simon Claisse reports the track to be soft all round with just six days to go until the start of the Festival. Heavy rain fell in the Cotswolds overnight, but there is a predominantly dry forecast from now until the showpiece meeting gets under way next Tuesday. Claisse said: “We had 24 millimetres of rain overnight which has left the course soft all round.” He went on: “There is tiny spit in the air, but the outlook is mostly dry and it’s also due to turn milder.I’m happy the rain has come today and not this time next week.” Asked about the prospect of watering, Claisse added: “That does not feature in our current plans.”
Going @CheltenhamRaces now Soft all round on all courses after 24mm rain overnight. Dry & milder outlook ahead TurfTrax @TurfTrax
The going at Cheltenham is now SOFT after the course was hit by 24mm of rain overnight. Racing Post @RacingPost 9.15am Wednesday
The going on all courses is now SOFT after 24mm of rain overnight. A few more mm expected today. #TheFestival CheltenhamRacecourse @CheltenhamRaces 9.15am Wednesday
BoyleSports’ spokesman Liam Glynn reported a four-figure wager yesterday forced the firm to cut Yorkhill by two points. Glynn said: “The support started to come in for Yorkhill around lunchtime on Tuesday and, having laid a four figure bet at 7-1 we clipped the son of Presenting into 6-1.”There was no sign of the demand drying up and within the space of an hour, having filled the book up at 6-1 which included another large four-figure bet, our traders had no choice but to cut him further into 5-1.The vibes are strong”
William Hill mirrored BoyleSports price cut on Yorkhill but allowed Min’s price to drift to 5-2 (from 11-8), their biggest price since early January. Spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke said: “The vibes are really strong for Yorkhill, less so for Min, who is very uneasy in the market.” David Jennings Racing Post 7:40PM 8 MAR 2016
.@WillieMullinsNH confirms to @OLBG that Annie Power has, as expected, been supplemented for the Champion Hurdle.
Augusta Kate will sidestep an engagement at Sandown on Saturday and instead take on the boys in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival. A daughter of the mighty Yeats and out of Grade One-winning hurdler Feathard Lady, Augusta Kate has made a huge impression in winning her two starts to date at Listowel and Navan. The five-year-old carries the colours of the Masters Syndicate, a group of celebrity owners that includes Ant and Dec, Alan Shearer and Lee Westwood. The syndicate is headed by owner Graham Wylie, who confirmed Willie Mullins has agreed to let her line up at Grade One level next Wednesday. Wylie told Press Association Sport that Westwood would definitely be in attendance at Cheltenham, but that Ant and Dec would not be present.
Jockey plans for Augusta Kate have not yet been firmed up, but the trainer’s son Patrick is not expected to take the mount as he is unlikely to be able to do the weight, with her mares’ allowance meaning she will carry 10st 12lb.
Johnny Burke “Yesterday, the 20-year-old was schooling Tommy Silver at Nicholls’ Ditcheat base, after he received a call from the legendary trainer asking him to ride the four-year-old in the Triumph Hurdle. Another fine seal of approval for a mild-mannered and likeable youngster who is one of the jumping game’s most exciting talents. “It’s a great chance to get,” Burke admits after putting Tommy Silver, a 20/1 shot for the Grade One, through its paces. “Tommy Silver’s owners (Potensis) also have Protek Des Flos in the Triumph. Maybe Noel Fehily will ride him, so I am provisionally booked for Tommy Silver. Supasundae probably ticks the most boxes. We know the track and trip suit; he ran well in the Champion Bumper last year, and Henry De Bromhead is brilliant at getting horses ready for Cheltenham.”
Followers of the wonderful Final Furlong Podcast will know the Racing Trends man Tony Keenan. Here is an interesting piece he has on geegeez.com
Last week saw the release of the weights for the ten Festival handicaps and there was the expected consternation among Irish connections about their UK marks and the increased marks they were given by the UK handicapper Phil Smith, writes Tony Keenan. So who were the real winners and losers from the announcement of the weights?
Loser: Gordon Elliott
If we learned nothing else from the release of the weights, it is that Phil Smith hates Gordon Elliott. The pair staged a cold war through the winter about the handicapping of the ex-Donald McCain-trained Diamond King and that set the tone for the Elliott entries being largely hard done by here. Take the relative handicapping of Elliott’s handicap hurdle entries compared to those of Willie Mullins; where the former’s runners received an average of 5.6 pounds on top of their home marks, the latter’s hurdlers were raised just 2.7 pounds. That discrepancy is a little too large to be coincidence and it might be that the UK handicappers are simply sick of Elliott plundering their races at summer gaffs like Perth and used this opportunity to punish the trainer. Elliott’s chasers don’t seem to be any better treated, particularly those that debuted early in the jumps season proper; Nickname Exit (9lbs higher), Lord Scoundrel (7lbs) and Unic De Bersy (5lbs) all seem to be paying a toll for winning their chases early. As to Diamond King, he might be one that Smith has got to grips with now. If his trainer didn’t think he was well-handicapped enough to win the Ladbroke at Ascot back in December, then why would he have so much in hand off a higher mark now?
Winner: Willie Mullins
Relative to Elliott, the Mullins handicappers seem to have got in relatively lightly. Not only did his hurdlers remain relatively untouched but both his entries (McKinley and Sambremont) for the novice handicap chase on Tuesday got into the race off a mark of 139 when the rating ceiling is 140. That was in contrast to last year when a number of his entries, notably Blood Cotil and Jarry D’Honneur, weren’t allowed into the race. The concern now for Mullins is whether his horses might be too well-treated. The likes of Townshend (133 in Ireland, 135 in UK) and Clondaw Warrior (132 in Ireland, 134 in UK) could face a struggle to get into a race, Townshend being number 64 on the ballot to get into the County and Clondaw Warrior 71 in the same race and 81 in the Martin Pipe.
Loser: Noble Endeavor
Noble Endeavor is nowhere near the worst handicapped horse at the meeting as he’s rated just a pound higher in the UK than Ireland, 141 as against 140. But that’s a small discrepancy that makes a big difference as it disqualifies him from getting in the novice handicap chase that has likely been his target all season. That was a race that made sense for him after such a good run off 140 in the Martin Pipe last year and instead punters are being asked to take a single-figure price about him for the National Hunt Chase, a test that seems wholly unsuitable for this strong traveller. He might be the chief sufferer of the fatal one pound rise but he’s not the only one. Spring Heeled is another example; he’s rated 146 and is thus disqualified from the Kim Muir he won in 2014.
There’s a long list of badly-handicapped Elliott runners at this meeting but one that might have slipped in light is Squouateur in the Martin Pipe, raised 4lbs from an Irish mark of 137 to a UK figure of 141 which guarantees him a run in the race. He won what looks the strongest handicap hurdle run over an intermediate trip in Ireland this season at Fairyhouse and wasn’t hard pressed to do so. The form of that race is already working out – the sixth won a similar race over the weekend at Naas – and he is bred to go on decent ground. With the top claimer Jack Kennedy likely to ride, he’s one whose price seems likely to collapse.
Loser: Tony Martin
Of the Irish trainers, only Willie Mullins has trained more handicap winners at the Festival since 2003 than Tony Martin, the Meath trainer sending out five in total including the likes of Xenophon and Dun Doire. That’s a tally he’s unlikely to add to this this year as his team of entries seems woefully thin with Guess Again (top price 16/1 for the Kim Muir) the shortest price of his possible runners. It’s not so much that the Martin runners have been hammered in the weights but rather that they are a mainly exposed bunch and it is difficult to see horses like Living Next Door, Mydor and The Plan Man having any secrets from the handicapper. The bigger issue may well be one of stable form as Martin has had a down season; since the start of September, his runners over jumps in Ireland and the UK are 8/148, a strikerate of 5.4% with an actual over expected of 0.41. There’s something wrong there.
Winner: Sandra Hughes
At the other end of the trainer form spectrum is Sandra Hughes who has won two Grade 2’s and a valuable handicap in the past month after a quiet winter. Her six handicap entries next week seem to have snuck in quite lightly relative to their Irish marks; the biggest hike was 5lbs, two were risen 3lbs, another a pound while two were left alone. There is unlikely to be any real buzz behind her team – Mullins and Elliott understandably hoover up most of the attention afforded to Irish trainers ahead of the Festival – but the likes of Art Of Payroll (County Hurdle) and especially Guitar Pete (Grand Annual, if he gets in) could well outrun their odds.
Loser: Michael O’Leary
He may be winning at life but I wouldn’t like to be footing the bill for Michael O’Leary’s handicap entries at Cheltenham, the owner having 57 initial entries across the 10 handicaps which is a massive number considering he claims to be only interested in winning Grade 1s. The Martin Pipe (11 entries), Coral Cup (9) and Kim Muir (8) have particularly high Gigginstown representation at this early stage. Gordon Elliott has a lot to answer for as he holds a large percentage of those O’Leary entries and he might be getting a call from the famously penny-pinching owner post-Festival. (Mr Ryanair had a brilliant line in a Racing Post interview last Sunday about how an interior designer offered to do a Google-style job on the Ryanair offices for €2.5 million so O’Leary did it himself for €25,000!) In that same interview he went on to point out that his horses are distributed on performance-related criteria with the trainers that do best for him getting new stock. No one has sent out more winners for him than Elliott in the last five years though the entry fees may be eating into the prize money. However, O’Leary was declared a first time billionaire in a recent rich list so this is all ‘drop in the ocean’ stuff.
‘Winner’: Home Farm
If you compare Irish marks and UK marks, then Home Farm is officially the best-treated Irish runner at the Festival being rated 149 at home but 145 across the water. That’s something the market seems to have ignored – he’s 50/1 for the Ultima Handicap Chase on Tuesday – but the layers probably have him about right as he simply looks a badly-handicapped horse that is out of form too. That’s the thing about handicap marks next week: punters can get too hung up on them and if an Irish horse is badly-treated at home a pound or two here or there won’t make a major difference. Sometimes it can be much more sensible to find a horse that is on the up and thriving who will be suited by conditions and not worry about the fact that Phil Smith has loaded on a lumpy penalty. Blue Hell is one that fits this mould.
Loser: Space Cadet
As for the theoretically worst handicapped Irish horse among the Festival handicappers, that dubious honour falls to Space Cadet who is 12lbs higher in the UK on a mark of 133. It’s a meaningless figure in truth as he’s highly unlikely to get a run in any race though Gordon Elliott might be heartened to think that Phil Smith rates him so highly. Perhaps Smith believes he’s another Elliott plot and has thus proceeded with caution but anyone watching his recent Irish races will know the truth of it as he’s become increasingly ungenuine and connections will be glad to win a race, any race, with him, not to mention a Festival handicap.
Winner: Irish Entries in the Grand Annual
Irish horses have a poor record in the handicap chases at the Festival; we have won the novice handicap only once since its inception, have had one winner in the Festival Plate since 1951 and are poor in the Kim Muir albeit improving of late. The one exception to this rule is the Grand Annual where we are 4 wins from 44 runners since 2003 (actual over expected of 1.25) along with five runners-up. It’s surprising then that across all the handicap chases, it is the Grand Annual where the Irish horses appear best-treated; the average discrepancy between the Irish and UK marks is 2.3lbs which is marginally the lowest of five handicap chases when it should be the highest judged on past results. Of course there is no certainty that history will repeat itself but looking at entries from the respective countries, many of the UK runners looked quite exposed whereas the Irish entries appear on the up with the likes of Velvet Maker, Rock The World and Guitar Pete all interesting. It might even be worth doing some small perms with forecasts and tricasts on the day around the Irish horses.
I also love this mans work and I’m sure you will all find this an interesting read.
Willie Mullins: The B Team Donn McClean March 8 2016, 10:36 GMT
They may not generate the same headlines but Donn McClean believes Willie Mullins’ ‘B Team’ should not be underestimated.
You can name the Willie Mullins A team fairly easily. Just look down the list of ante post favourites. Min and Douvan and Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag. The spine of the team is in action on Day One. Any one of them would be an automatic on any team. Un De Sceaux and Augusta Kate and Outlander and Limini along the middle, with the three Gold Cup horses Djakadam and Don Poli and Vautour completing the line-up. There’s your starting XI right there, a world-class outfit, and that is even without usual automatics Faugheen and Arctic Fire and Killultagh Vic, all in the physio’s room. It’s a starting XI that would put the fear of God into just about any opposition.
But sometimes the A team plays the B team, and sometimes the B team can put it up to the A team. This year, the Mullins B team would be an A team for most. Actually, the main difficulty with the B team was in deciding which players to include and which to leave on a highly talented bench of potential impact subs.
Yorkhill He is two for two over hurdles and two for two in bumpers, and he should be two for two in point-to-points as well. He was impressive in winning his maiden, and he travelled like the most likely winner from a long way out in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle on soft ground before keeping on well up the run-in to win nicely. The Tolworth Hurdle is working out really well, with runner-up O O Seven winning at Musselburgh next time out and third-placed Agrapart landing the Betfair Hurdle on his next run. Even the tailed-off Cyrius Moriviere won next time out. Yorkhill is by Presenting, he should be even better on better ground, and he will be a player in whichever of the Grade 1 novices’ hurdles he contests.
Felix Yonger Felix Yonger is a legitimate wingman for Un De Sceaux in the Champion Chase. Runner-up to Simonsig in the Neptune Hurdle in 2012, he is in the form of his life these days. He has now won six of his last seven races, including the Grade 1 Champion Chase at last year’s Punchestown Festival and, most recently, the Grade 2 Tied Cottage Chase back at Punchestown. He has won over two and a half miles, but he has the pace for two miles. We know that he can operate at Cheltenham, and he goes well on good ground.
Bleu Et Rouge He did not have the run of the race in the Grade 1 Future Champions’ Novices’ Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, he was keen and he was held up off a fairly sedate pace, but he made amends last time in the Deloitte Hurdle. That race has been a great pointer to Cheltenham in recent years, and there was a lot to like about the manner in which JP McManus’ horse stayed on to get the better of the talented Tombstone. The Neptune Hurdle would appear to be a legitimate Cheltenham target, but owner JP McManus also owns the warm favourite for that race in Yanworth, so it makes sense that Bleu Et Rouge should be aimed at one of the other Grade 1 novices’ hurdles. He shapes like a horse who is not devoid of stamina, so perhaps the Albert Bertlett Hurdle is the race for him.
Let’s Dance Favourite for the Triumph Hurdle before she made her debut in Ireland, Let’s Dance ran a cracker on her debut for Mullins at Leopardstown over Christmas, going down by two lengths to Ivanovich Gorbatov, the pair of them clear in a good time. She was also beaten on her next run, in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, when she raced up with a fast pace before rallying on the run-in after she had been passed. She is unquestionably a talented filly, and she could still be a big player in the Triumph Hurdle.
Valseur Lido We will never know for sure if Valseur Lido would have won the Irish Gold Cup or not, had he not unseated his rider at the last, but he was travelling so well at the time that he had to have gone mighty close. It would have been a career-best performance, and it would have been just reward for a highly talented horse. Winner of the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase over two and a half miles as a novice, and of the Grade 1 Growise Chase over three, he is still just seven years old and there could be even better to come. He would be a big player in the Ryanair Chase, and he would be a lively outsider in the Gold Cup.
Roi Des Francs A fine third in the Martin Pipe Hurdle at last year’s Festival off a mark of 139, Roi Des Francs has now won his last two over fences. He beat Sunday’s Grade 3 Naas winner Sub Lieutenant in his beginners’ chase at Fairyhouse in December, then followed up by staying on strongly to beat stable companion Pont Alexandre and (the same) Sub Lieutenant in a Grade 2 race at Naas in January. The National Hunt Chase was under consideration, but it now looks like the RSA Chase is his target, and that is a race that Mullins has won three times in the last 12 years.
Black Hercules The National Hunt Chase was also under consideration for Black Hercules, but he travelled so well in the Grade 2 Ten Up Chase at Navan last month that the talk now is of allowing him take his chance in the JLT Chase. He fell at the final fence in the Ten Up Chase, but it is reasonable to assume that he would have run out a ready winner of the race had he not got in a little tight and landed steeply. Winner of his maiden hurdle over two miles in November last season, he beat Alpha Des Obeaux over three in a Grade 3 contest at Cork the following month. He is versatile, he is talented and he is progressive, and he should be a player in whichever race he contests.
Blazer Blazer was well beaten in the Betfair Hurdle the last time we saw him, and he looked like a well-handicapped horse going into that race, racing under just a 5lb penalty for his easy win at Leopardstown. However, the Betfair Hurdle came up just seven days after his Leopardstown win, and it is possible that he was feeling the effects. Also, he travelled well through the Newbury race before they just got away from him at the top of the home straight, and it was interesting that his trainer said afterwards that he might benefit from a step up in trip. The Martin Pipe Hurdle or the Coral Cup are legitimate targets. He is up to a mark of 141 in Britain now, which is 4lb higher than his new Irish mark, but he is only five, he is lightly raced and he still has scope for improvement over the intermediate trip.
Great Field Great Field ran out an impressive winner of a two-and-a-quarter-mile hurdle race at Leopardstown 10 days ago on his first run for Mullins, his first run for 16 months. He was keener than ideal through the race, but he led from early and it never really looked like he was going to be passed. The handicapper hasn’t missed him by giving him a rating of 147, but he could still be competitive in either the Coral Cup or the County Hurdle off that mark.
Apple’s Jade Apple’s Jade picked up nicely and stayed on well to land the Grade 2 juveniles’ hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival. That was just her second ever run and it was her debut for Mullins, so there was a lot to like about the attitude that she displayed in catching and passing Jer’s Girl, with the pair of them coming clear of subsequent Grade 1 winner Footpad. A slight setback kept her out of the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle, but she is reportedly over that now. She is still in the Triumph Hurdle, but she also has the option of contesting the new mares’ novices’ hurdle, and she would be an interesting contender in either.
A Toi Phil After a mishap on his debut for Mullins at Clonmel in December, A Toi Phil has now won his last two races, both of which are working out well. The second and third in his maiden, Don’t Touch It and Vigil, were impressive winners of their own maidens next time, while Acapella Bourgeois, runner-up in the Grade 2 race that A Toi Phil won at Leopardstown in January, kept on well to win the Grade 2 Michael Purcell Hurdle at Thurles last month. It looks like he will contest either the Neptune Hurdle or the Albert Bartlett Hurdle, and he should be a player in either.