#startracking Thursday March 10th 7pm

A little light reading? (Just the 7k+ words!!) Hope you enjoy the handicap profiles!

OMG Hobbsy is getting all media friendly! This will be in your Racing Post tomorrow!

“GARDE LA VICTOIRE looks set to put his unbeaten record over fences on the line in the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham next week with likely ground conditions proving the deciding factor. The Philip Hobbs-trained seven-year-old also holds an entry in the Racing Post Arkle on Tuesday, in which he would clash with hot favourite Douvan, but he now looks likely to wait 48 hours and step up to two and a half miles for the JLT.

Hobbs said: “There is no preference between the races really but we’re slightly leaning towards the JLT due to the ground looking like it is going to dry out and taking into account the weather forecast, which now looks dry following the rain on Wednesday. “I appreciate Douvan is frightening the opposition away in the Arkle and they say you should never be scared of one horse but from a ratings point of view Sizing John was brushed aside by him at Leopardstown over Christmas and he has a mark of 151, which is the same as Garde La Victoire. So what chance do we have of beating Douvan?”

Rest of Hobbs hopes

A decision on whether Village Vic, who has won his last two races at Cheltenham, runs in the Ryanair Chase or the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate will be left until nearer the time. “He’s very well in himself and has been in the form of is life this season,” said Hobbs. “But we will be leaving the decision as to which race he contests next week until closer to the day as it will be interesting to see what the opposition looks like in the two races.”

Balthazar King, another of the trainer’s festival stars, is looking to bounce back from an injury sustained in last season’s Grand National when attempting to clock up his sixth success over the Cheltenham cross-country fences in Wednesday’s Glenfarclas-sponsored contest.

Richard Johnson will ride Balthazar King and also partner Crabbie’s Grand National hope Kruzhlinin for Hobbs in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase, Rock The Kasbah or Brother Tedd in the Coral Cup and Wait For Me, who will take his chance in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle.


Gordon got news on the way here today that Our Father is injured. Boylesports ‏@BoyleSports · 6pm Wednesday

 Myska won’t be running in the Mares Novice Hurdle and instead will go to Fairyhouse according to WPM. Ricci been telling every f**ker that Long Dog goes the Neptune and now he heads to the Albert Bartlett. Can’t stand the guessing games. Antepost Racing ‏@AntepostRacing 12.30 Thurs

Great Field, Different Gravey, Kilcrea Vale and Lil Rockerfeller have all been scratched from next Wednesday’s Coral Cup Racing Post ‏@RacingPost 1pm

Leading National Hunt Chase fancy Roi Des Francs likely runs in the RSA Chase says Gigginstown’s Eddie O’Leary. Racing Post ‏@RacingPost · 5pm Thursday


4m NH Chase. JJ Codd has been booked for. D.O’Connor rides (Native River Minella Rocco). Nina Carberry is booked for Southfield Royale (N.Mulholland). Will Biddick rides Vicente (Paul Nicholls).

Local Show will tackle the four-mile National Hunt Chase under Pauling’s head lad, Tom David.


Here are another four handicaps profiled, selections nearer the time.

Thurs. 4.10 Brown Advisory Plate 2m 5f Handicap Chase (Max24 – OR137+)

Not carrying over 10st 11lb unless previous placed Festival form. Rated between 128 and 147. Not older than 10. Older horses do get placed. If backing a 10 yr old or older prefer one with placed course form. Winner will have won at Class 3 level and at a distance between 2m3f and 2m5f. Will either have competed in a previous festival race or will have less than 12 chase runs. Has run between 3 and 16 times over fences. If out at all, will have run between 3 and 8 times this season or be Pipe trained. Could have finished anywhere last time out. May not have been seen on course since November. Did not gain a place in this season’s on course 2m 4f Graded Handicap Chases. Any price. Irish trained to gain place. French Bred to be placed. Watch for French Bred 6 yr olds. Not blinkered. Conditional jockeys do win this. Seriously consider D Pipe and maybe Venetia Williams. Not P Nicholls.   May not have won this season. Wasn’t beaten favourite last time. Sorry, did I mention watch for Pipe trained especially when 12/1 or shorter?   Winner likely to have been given a ‘sighter’ in a course chase no later than last year’s Festival and has no course win or placed form. GAULT STATS

Not easy to get a handle on this far out as plenty at the top of the market have multiple entries!

Let’s concentrate on four trainers to start off with, Jonjo O’Neill, Venetia Williams, David Pipe and Paul Nicholls.

JOHNS SPIRIT OR145 Has winning course form around this trip, has dropped 12lbs since the start of the season and is trained by the master of setting one up for the Festival JJ O’Neill. Needs Good in the going description and every time he has run this season the ground has gone against him. Stands out like a sore thumb and has been on my list since November BUT there are two issues. Firstly his form on the Old and the New courses at Cheltenham and his style of running i.e he’s a hold up horse and you need to be a prominent/front running type!

Captnevillecazalet on wordpress points out On the face of it he’s supremely well handicapped but it’s a well-known fact that his best Cheltenham form – and his best is very good – is all on the Old Course, 7,1,1,1,2,9. On the New Course his figures read 6,5,4,5,9,6,4 and until he shows that there isn’t anything in the course preference angle, I’m happy to pass.” Secondly the course is narrow in places, for a 24 runner field and you need to be travelling and jumping towards the front and no more than three wide and I’m not sure that’s Johns Spirit?

TAQUIN DU SEUIL OR157 The class act in the field as a past winner of the JLT in his novice days and will carry top weight of 11st 12lb. Off for almost a year having finished down the field in the RyanAir at last year’s Festival he made a winning return at Warwick in a handicap beating Niceonefrankie.

NICEONEFRANKIE OR145 A C&D winner fourteen months ago off just 2lbs less Captnevillecazalet on wordpress makes a really powerful case for him, “One at a big price, who was beaten by Taquin Du Seuil at Warwick is Niceonefrankie (33/1). Jonjo may never have won the Plate before but someone who’s as familiar to success in this race as David Pipe, is Venetia Williams. The Herefordshire Heroine has sent out three winners of this in the past nine years at SP’s of 12/1, 33/1 and 50/1. More often than not she’s got one for it and looking at her entries, Niceonefrankie has a lot going for him. Last season’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup victor by duty of that, is a course and distance winner when he scored under an enterprising ride by Aidan Coleman. He’s only had the two outings this term, firstly being badly hampered at Newbury in November and pulling up then his second at Warwick. Off 145 he was partnered by Charlie Deutsch taking a handy 5lbs off and if that team were to remain intact for the Festival, Niceonefrankie would be 2lbs lower than his Cheltenham win last December. He likes to race up with the pace and that style definitely suits this handicap.”

COLD MARCH OR148 When he won at ascot last October on Good ground he looked like he had just joined in at the second last! Since then the second has turned the form round with him at Cheltenham, he has run out and finished sixth of six in the G2 Dovecote novice hurdle at Kempton. Is ground the key, is Venetia Williams protecting that mark? No idea!

MONETAIRE OR138 second in this last year but having a dreadful season since. Now 10yo and 67th on the list. If he did get in I would still want to take him on. David Pipe told At The Races “We are trying to get him to Cheltenham but he has been very disappointing this season. He appears to be in good form at home and I am undecided as to whether he goes there yet.”

DOCTOR HARPER OR141 Handicapper did him no favours putting him out of the novice handicap by 1lb! Pipe definitely thinks he is his best handicap hope and this could well be the race. Trainer has to be respected but it’s a big ask for a three race novice! As Captnevillecazalet observes “…the Plate is not a race for the unexposed youngster, its one in that the battle hardened, experienced handicapper rules.”

David Pipe told At The Races “He is in all the handicaps – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir, Ultima Handicap Chase and the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate – and he is probably one of my best chances of the week. He has done this well this season – albeit in small fields – so his jumping will be put under more pressure at Cheltenham but he was an impressive winner at Leicester at the end of January and had previously chases home Garde La Victoire and L’Ami Serge.”

SAMTEGAL OR148 Won well at Newbury recently and is a consistent horse but I can still see him stopping at Doncaster the race before. He has some ideas of his own and despite winning six if starts under rules, he has been second six and third three times as well? Paul Nicholls told At The Races “He could run in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate but isn’t thrown in off 145. He did run a solid race behind More Of That at Cheltenham in December and jumps well.”

STILLETTO OR142 Regular #startrackers will be familiar with the immature 7yo that is Stilletto. He tanks through races but doesn’t always give the obstacles his 100% attention! When, and if, he grows up mentally he could be a OR160+ horse but I would fear for him in this fiercely competitive race at this stage of his career. As Captnevillecazalet observes “…the Plate is not a race for the unexposed youngster, its one in that the battle hardened, experienced handicapper rules.”

BALLYCASEY OR148 Two years ago he beat Don Cossack in the G1 Novice Chase Leopardstown and was sent off 13/2JF for the RSA and he seemed destined for the very top but since then with his 8th in the RSA it has been under-acheivement. If this Presenting did come back to his very best he would be very well handicapped but I believe this to bea stepping stone to the Aintree Grand National.

VILLAGE VIC OR157 Brilliant season including winning over C&D and could run in the Ryanair. Either way it would be a big ask. That course form is a negative in this race but a positive in the RyanAir! Philip Hobbs told At The Races “He is very much on course for either the two and a half mile handicap chase or the Ryanair Chase but which one he runs in I’m not sure. He has won his last two races at Cheltenham and obviously acts well round the course and we are on course for the Festival.” CHAMPAGNE WEST OR154 His jumping has gone to pieces and I expect Mr Brookhouse will still want to run him at the Festival and probably here. Personally I think the smaller field in the RyanAir would be preferable. Good ground, 2m5f round Cheltenham are his ideal conditions. Now the “ifs”, if he put in a clear round, if his fall last time hasn’t mentally scarred him. He has always had a touch of class , don’t think he would win a RyanAir but could easily grab a place. Had really high hopes for this horse. Philip Hobbs told At The Races “He fell in the Betbright Chase at Kempton last Saturday and haven’t done much with him since. It depends how he schools this week, what the ground is and what trip to run him over. He is entered in four race at the Festival – the Ultima Handicap Chase, Ryanair Chase, Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate and the Gold Cup – at the moment I wouldn’t have a clue.”

IRISH CAVALIER OR153 Won the novices handicap last Festival off OR137 but turned up at this seasons Paddy Power Gold Cup off 19lb higher and has been disappointing this season for the out of form Rebecca Curtis.

DARNA OR144 Cee Bee from Betswot fancies Darna – Just like the other two above, Darna ran well at a previous Festival. Whilst the others placed, this fella won the Plate Handicap Chase last season. He won off 140 and was raised 7lbs but having ran just twice he now finds himself returning off just 144. Darna was brought down in the Topham (where Rajdhani boosted the Plate form). This season he was pulled up in the Paddy Power Chase but that was easily excused. He needs good ground and certainly didn’t get it in November. Goes here fresh but the Kim Bailey yard are in flying form so could run well again. He’s also 33/1 with Boylesports and Ladbrokes, but neither are non-runner no bet at this stage.”


Thurs. 5.30 Kim Muir 3m 2f Handicap Chase (Amateur Riders)(Max 24 – o-145)

Will be aged 7 to 10 years unless trained by D Pipe.  Nothing placed above a 10 yr old unless Henderson or Pipe trained.  Will either have never run at Cheltenham before or will have strong placed course form.  Either between 10 and 20 previous runs over fences or less than 7 previous chase runs and strongly fancied.  Last race will have been in a handicap over at least 3 miles but not necessary to have won a handicap chase.  Has competed in a G3 this season or has won a Cl2 this season.  At least two runs this season but may not have been seen for months.  Either has won a NH race over 3 miles or has top class placed form over at least that distance.  Will have finished at least 3rd in either of last two runs or is under 10/1.  Unlikely to be from Ditcheat.  Irish trained punch well above their numbers for place purposes.  Headgear wearing very much in vogue recently.  Winning jockey a non-claiming amateur.  Wasn’t beaten favourite last time out.  Did I mention David Pipe? Now half a furlong longer in distance from 2014.  Still a 0 – 145 handicap. MIKE GAULT


It’s all about the jockeys! If you have a horse with a chance you need a proper jockey. As Mike Gault again points out CLAIMING JOCKEYS Apart from Ryan Hatch’s 7lbs on Some Difference in 2013, non-claiming amateur jockeys had won 9 of the last 11.  First three home last year, first four home in 2014, the first 6 home in 2012, a 1-2-3-4 in 2011 and 4 out of the first 5 home in both 2010 and 2009.  In Ryans year, the next 4 home were all non-claimers.  Jockey’s current role of honour reads JJ Codd, Robbie MacNamara, Ryan, A J Berry, JJ Codd, RO Harding, Codd, JE Tudor (3lb), R Burton, Harding, R Burton.  Mr D O’Connor yet to win this. He will.“

Gordon Elliott told sportinglife.com “If you’ve got Jamie Codd or Nina Carberry or Derek O’Connor in these sort of races it’s worth a stone straight away.”

Richard Burton has retired. JJ Codd has been booked for Cause of Causes (G.Elliott). D.O’Connor rides (??). Nina Carberry is booked for Our Father (D.Pipe Gordon Elliott) (??). Let’s start with these.

CAUSE OF CAUSES OR142 A class act who won last season’s four miler at the festival and is reunited with Mr JJ Codd which is a couple of positives to start with. The ground will be another bonus.

“He’s been some horse for us. He’s won the Ladbroke, been second in a Galway Hurdle, he was just beaten in the Kim Muir and probably would’ve won that had he jumped the last and he won the four-miler. He’ll either go for the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase or the Kim Muir. We’re thrilled with him. This morning he was pulling the arms out of Jamie Codd. I’d love to go for the Kim Muir with Jamie riding him. On good ground he’s very good, the Kim Muir will suit him. We know he’s been there twice and he likes the place.”

SILVERGROVE OR138 An improving 8yo who should be unbeaten in three runs if his leather hadn’t broken on the Sandown run in. Could give Mr Tom David an opportunity to right that wrong. Front running, solid jumper who could enjoy the Cheltenham challenge.

“I’d say he’s more likely to go for the Kim Muir, it all depends on who goes where. He’s a horse that is on a crest of a wave at the moment in that in his races he just doesn’t look like he is going to get beat at the moment as he’s on a bit of a roll. We all know that at some point that will come to an end, but I wouldn’t say he’s finished yet and if he can find a bit more from somewhere his running style would be very suited to Cheltenham in that in those big handicaps they’ve got to travel and jump [well] for the first circuit to have an opportunity to get into the race thereafter. Half the field will be strung out like the washing by the time they come round for the second circuit, and if he can be there in the first three, bowling along and jumping, he’ll keep going as he’s as hard as they come.” Ben Pauling speaking to Ladbrokes

“He’s a horse that doesn’t want it soft, despite the fact he’s won on it. He’s a great, big, old fashioned chaser and will just bounce off the better ground.” “Ben Pauling’s progressive Silvergrove could run in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap or the Kim Muir at Cheltenham next month. An 8lb lift in the weights for a win at Kempton last week now means he is almost guaranteed a run in the handicap on the opening day as well as the race for amateur riders later in the week. “The 8lb rise definitely puts him right in the mix for the Ultima Handicap, too,” said Pauling. “Now that he’ll get in both races we need to try and work out which one he has the best chance of winning. It won’t come down to riders. Either Nico (De Boinville) or David (Bass) would ride on the Tuesday while Tom David showed at Sandown that he gets on well with him, despite the tack slipping.” Sky Sports News

“Silvergrove, seeking his third win on the spin, could go in the Ultima Handicap Chase or the Kim Muir.” Guardian

GUESS AGAIN OR137 An 11yo trained by an out of form Tony Martin who is 44 on the list but is as low as 14/1 general. Fell in this race last year with 2lbs more. Just doesn’t look a Cheltenham horse.

THE JOB IS RIGHT OR142 Never nearer fifth in the Paddy Power at Leopardstown. Looks set up for this. Was third in the 4m NH Chase at last year’s festival, so ground and course are fine and I would love to see Adrian Maguire’s son Finny riding him.

DOCTOR HARPER OR141 David Pipe told ATR, He is in all the handicaps – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir, Ultima Handicap Chase and the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate – and he is probably one of my best chances of the week. He has done this well this season – albeit in small fields – so his jumping will be put under more pressure at Cheltenham but he was an impressive winner at Leicester at the end of January and had previously chases home Garde La Victoire and L’Ami Serge.” The exchanges strongly suggest that Doctor Harper will run here having been backed with the bookies from 14/1 to 7/1. His target was the Novices handicap but the handicapper scuppered that plan with a mark of OR141.

Fri. 2.10 County 2m Handicap Hurdle (Max26 – OR134+)

Will be aged 5 or 6 yrs or else a novice or else placed in Boylesports/Betfair Hurdle.  If full handicap, will carry under 11st 1lb unless finished 1st or 2nd in a Class 1 Handicap Hurdle and is 10/1 or under.  Will not carry over 11st 8lbs.   Not more than 1lb out of the handicap.   Will have had at least three previous runs this season or be trained by W Mullins.   Do not fret if has ran more than 5 times this season.  Will have run in total between 4 and 16 times over hurdles.  Will be rated between 128 and 139.  Not blinkered unless P Nicholls trained.  Either Irish or P Nicholls trained.  Not a previous course winner unless called Solstice Star. If P Nicholls winner, has been beaten here in a hurdle.  If Irish trained, check for recent Leopardstown form.  Can win this under a penalty.  May already have ran in a top hurdle race this season.  Any price.  Don’t back a conditional who has yet to win at least Class 2 level on course.  

I love this race probably as it’s been kind to me over the years. Find the right improver with 10lbs in hand and collect your money! Here’s the short long list and nearly all of them have a “but” attached! Must have changed my selection at least three times in the last fortnight and I am still not sure!

BLUE HELL                   OR146 Anyone who saw his win at Fairyhouse in November has to have him on a shortlist. A classic “just joined in” performance. Previous trainer Tony Mullins says he worked like a Champion Hurdle horse but never delivered on the track. Big owner Barry O’Connell moved him to Alan Fleming, BH has a wind op and hey presto! He has two “buts”. Firstly his handicap mark. The Irish Handicapper put him up 13lb for that win and the British handicapper has put him up another 9lbs! So he won off OR124 and now has to defy OR146. The second “but” is the fact we haven’t seen him since which brings into play one of the Killer Stats. “Handicap hurdlers off more than 15 weeks (105 days) since 2003 – 0 from 104”!!

DESOTO COUNTY       OR137 An eye-catching third in the big Coral.ie hurdle behind Henry Higgins at Leopardstown but I can’t have this horse at all. He is one of the Rooney horses moved from Donald McCain and Gordon Elliott got him to win off OR116 first time up. He is now on OR137 and the form book tells us he was beaten off OR123 and OR120 at Musselburgh and Newcastle and off OR117 at Kelso, so is the bullish Mr Elliott a miracle worker? The second “but” with his mark is that he is 59th on the list and I think he will struggle to get a run. His trainer told sportinglife.com He was a bit unlucky last time, he missed the start but flew home on just his second run for us. He’s got a mark of 137 so we won’t run him again and he’ll go straight for the County Hurdle. He’s come out of Leopardstown really well and he looks great, I’m really happy with him.”

SUPERB STORY           OR138 Dan Skelton’s exciting 5yo was an excellent second in the Greatwood Hurdle over C&D off OR129 in November. He was put up 9lbs to OR138 which is a spot-on mark in the context of this race and the horse does need good ground which explains his absence but again brings that Killer Stat into play. “Handicap hurdlers off more than 15 weeks (105 days) since 2003 – 0 from 104”!!

GREAT FIELD               OR147 Three runs in France and a winning debut in Ireland for JP McManus/Willie Mullins. When winning he wouldn’t settle, tanked through his race and still had enough to hold off Draco in the run from the last. The British handicapper has taken no chances giving him a mark of OR147, which is only 7lbs less than Altior!

“French import GRAND FIELD is held in high-regard by trainer Willie Mullins and after meeting a few setbacks this winter, he made his belated Irish debut in the Foxrock Cup Hurdle at Leopardstown. This JP McManus-owned 5-year-old, already a dual hurdles winner in France, made a winning start for his new connections, creating a deep impression to score by a comfortable four and a half lengths. After racing keenly in the hands of Barry Geraghty early on, he pulled himself to the front before the fourth flight. However, his freshness made little difference at the business end of the contest as he had most of his rivals off the bridle at the second-last and he readily drew clear of his nearest pursuers on the run-in. He’s entered in the County, Coral Cup and Martin Pipe handicap hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival and with the stronger gallop certain to suit this free-running gelding, he would warrant the ultimate respect if taking up one of his engagements.”

DRACO himself was put up 4lbs and now runs off OR140 and he could be a player himself.

ALL YOURS                  OR147 Fifth in last years Fred Winter he won the Aintree G1 juvenile but was disappointing this season on his only run in the Elite hurdle. Well thought of “but” looks primed for Merseyside. Another who will have to beat that Killer Stat, “Handicap hurdlers off more than 15 weeks (105 days) since 2003 – 0 from 104”!!

Paul Nicholls told ATRHe was entered in the Champion Hurdle but we haven’t been able to get a run into him since November as he loves good ground. We took him out of that and the plan is to run him in the County Hurdle off his mark of 147 if the ground dries out. He will have a racecourse gallop shortly and won a Grade 1 at Aintree last season and he will probably return there.”

It’s been a frustrating season with him. He loves good ground, has had one run at Wincanton this year and finished fifth and I’ve saved him since. Last year I ran him in the Fred Winter and he finished fifth off a fairly tough mark and got into all sorts of trouble that day. Then he went on and won a Grade One at Aintree and was very impressive. He’s a horse that’s waiting for decent ground and the plan is the County Hurdle and then go to Aintree again. He was in the Champion Hurdle at one point but, not having got a run into him, we took him out and thought we’d go for the County this year. He’s got a lot of class and he seems to be better in the spring.” Greg Wood Guardian

WAIT FOR ME             OR139 Third in last year’s Cheltenham Bumper, second to Buveur D’Air on hurdling debut and twice a winner of novice events since. An improving horse on a great mark but his “but” is his hurdling. Massive engine but the strong pace and hurly burly of a County Hurdle could put his jumping under real pressure.

Just a quick word on Wait For Me who won again last week. He really is still a big baby, but jumped much better when in behind horses. Then, when he hit the front he jumped like he’d never seen a hurdle before. I’m convinced he’ll be better in a better race where they’ll go a lot faster. As for Cheltenham plans, we’ll just have to see. He’s in the novice hurdles, but could end up in a race like the County Hurdle.” Richard Johnson Betway Blog 1.2.16

Philip Hobbs recently told ATRHe was third in the Champion Bumper last year and has won his last two races over hurdles at Kempton and Newbury. He would be aimed at the County Hurdle. He has been going the right way recently and probably wants better ground – that would be a plus for him.” Philip Hobbs will probably also run the 10yo veteran, Cheltenian off top weight. PH said ““He will go for the County Hurdle and should be suited by the way the race is run. The problem is that he is 7lb higher (than last year) now which won’t make life easy for him.”

STERNRUBIN              OR142 As all regular #startrackers will know this was my pick for the Betfair and he ran an expensive stinker! I just don’t think the County Hurdle will suit his bold, front-running style and he will just set it up for those behind! Philip Hobbs told ATR “He will run in the County Hurdle. He ran badly in the Betfair Hurdle and we don’t really know why but he certainly ran below par. He had previously won his third race of the season when he deadheated with Jolly’s Cracked It in the Ladbroke Hurdle and we hope he leaves his Betfair Hurdle effort behind.”

SOME PLAN                OR146 Another one for us #startrackers but he is part of the Brookhouse/Poor House gang! His mark is probably a tad high but he has some decent form in the book, 10th in the supreme, 5th in a Listed handicap and 4th in the Ladbroke behind Sternrubin. I could see him outrunning his current odds of 25/1. Paul Nicholls told ATR “He is probably going to run in the County Hurdle and we will look at the Imperial Cup beforehand. Good ground would be fine and he ran a good race when fourth to Sternrubin in the Ladbroke Hurdle.”

MAD JACK MYTTON  OR140 a popular selection with many of the shrewder readers of the game and just the type of horse Jonjo O’Neill will have in peak form for the Festival. MJM has been down the field in the Great wood and the Betfair but the ground was probably against him both times. He only just failed to give 25lbs to an in-form Solstice Star at Cheltenham in December. All the 25/1 has gone and he is now 20/1 general.

CARDINAL WALTER   OR140 Owned by Fitri Hay and 90 rated off the flat. Won two novice hurdles last season both at Doncaster and was 5th in the G2 novice at Aintree. Just the one run this season when Henderson sent a bus full up to Musselburgh and the Scottish trials primarily for the better ground but sadly the rain came. Cardinal Walter ran in the Listed 2m handicap hurdle was bang there at the last but failed to quicken. The handicapper put him up a pound and that may well have been a job well done!? Placed at York and Goodwood on the Flat, Festivals and big fields shouldn’t bother him.

CYRIUS MORIVIERE    OR136 No.60 on the list but an improver with a good attitude. May just squeeze in. Aintree would be ideal.

Ben Pauling talks to Ladbrokes, “Winner of one of his five starts. Scored by a length and a half from Waterlord at Huntingdon (2m) in December. Currently rated 130 over hurdles. “He won well at Huntingdon beating a nice horse in Waterlord and didn’t handle the ground in a Grade 1 event at Sandown next time. He will go back for an ordinary novice with a penalty and then we may look for a bigger target with him towards the end of the season.”

“CYRIUS MORIVIERE found the 32Red Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle too hot on his last outing but he made amends for that disappointing effort with a facile success at Doncaster on Friday in the Skybet Novices’ Hurdle over two miles. Ridden handily by Maurice Linehan, Ben Pauling’s 6yo gelding took up the run-in with four to jump and after jumping the second last he bounded six lengths clear of the field before pulling further clear after the final obstacle to record a very impressive 19 length victory. Although his performance here was easy on the eye, I didn’t think that the race had a lot of depth to it and for that reason, I hope that the handicapper isn’t too harsh when re-assessing him. There is no doubt that his future lies in handicaps over timber but he has plenty of potential to progress further and the fact that he is a strong traveller will help him when he runs in fiercely competitive handicap hurdles that are often run at a good gallop.” OR136h Final Flight Notebook Grant Copson

You can’t look at this race without checking out the Mullins entries despite Willie saying “nothing leapt off the pages for me in the handicaps!”

DICOSIMO                  OR150 Just the sort to bounce back to top form and that could be top class. I’ve had this one on the radar for a while and he is a #startracker. Looked one of the better Irish juveniles but was disappointing in the Triumph when 8th behind Peace and Co and was probably over the top by Fairyhouse in May but bounced back winning at Limerick first time up and that Official Rating looks very workable.” However that fall in the Betfair Hurdle means he would have to defy a favourite Killer Stat. “Only ONE of the last 103 runners to come in off the back of a fall (since 2006) was victorious.”

TOWNSHEND             OR135 No.64 on the list and is going to struggle to get a run. On his only run in Ireland, sent off 2/1 favourite, he was a one paced fourth to the much touted Squouateur. I’m sure there is plenty more to come but not at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.

Which brings me back to where my first thoughts were heading!

MODUS                       OR139 Ever since I saw his initial Official Rating I felt there was a big handicap to be won with him. They protected his mark for the Betfair where the ground and how the race panned out both went against him. He has been 8th and 2nd in the last two runnings of the Festival Bumper suggesting Cheltenham, big fields and Spring ground hold no fears. He’s quirky, he wears a hood but he has gears and I think the County Hurdle will suit him down to a tee.

Paul Nicholls told ATR “He got behind early in the Betfair Hurdle and was hated the ground and was almost brought down. He’s in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but with a mark of 139 I would be leaning more to the County Hurdle with him.” “Frank Berry confirms County, not Supreme, target for Modus, “worked very well during week”. Racing Post ‏@RacingPost Fri. 10th March


Fri. 4.50 Martin Pipe 2m4f Handicap Hurdle (Conditionals)(Max24 – OR135+)

Only going 7 years.  The Pipes will win this someday, probably with an outsider.  Their plot horse tends to get too short for a 24 runner handicap hurdle (and will be all the rage the week before).  Winner has won at Class 3 level hurdle or placed at G2 level.  Either won last time or Graded place.  Winning jockey not claiming more than 3 lbs and has already ridden 20+ winners.  Horse not blinkered and not beaten favourite last time.  Usually a compressed handicap, ratings from about 133 to 145.  Only 5 and 6 yr olds successful so far.  Not necessary to have run up a sequence of wins.  No more than 13 previous hurdle runs.  Trained by anyone.   Has won a hurdle of at least 13 runners.  P Nicholls and W Mullins beginning to take a keen interest.  In 2015 the 3lb allowance for riders riding for their own stable and the 7lb allowance for those who have not ridden a winner have been removed from race conditions.  Done to deter trainers ‘gambling with inexperience’.  BHA wants to promote booking the best conditionals. Now is a 0-145 handicap as opposed to 0-140 previously. 

This could be the hardest handicap to win over all four days! There are some seriously sexy, well touted rapidly improving youngsters entered for this race!

SQUOUATEUR            OR141 Looked very impressive, quickening up well, in winning two Irish handicaps off OR120 and OR128 and the Irish handicapper put him up to OR137. The British handicapper has given him another 4lbs but I’m told connections are all smiles at the mark and it’s no surprise that JP has the money down, 12/1 a week ago and now down to 7/1 general.

Gordon Elliott to sportinglife.com “He’s done nothing wrong this year. He’s won at Leopardstown, Fairyhouse and obviously he’s an improving horse for JP McManus. He’s in the Coral Cup and the Martin Pipe. I think the Martin Pipe would suit him with Jack Kennedy riding him, but obviously they have so many horses they’ll have to weigh everything up. They might want to keep him for Aintree, Fairyhouse or Punchestown, but I’d love to go to the Martin Pipe with him.”

TYCOON PRINCE        OR139 If he is going to run at the Festival the exchanges suggest it will be here. No mention of him in the Elliott Stable Tours? He’ll love the better ground and in his bumper days he had real gears. If he gets his hurdling together he has a real chance.

“Gordon Elliott’s six-year-old racked up a trio of victories in bumper company last season, with his only defeat coming on debut when fourth behind eventual Cheltenham Champion Bumper victor Moon Racer. This indicates that he is not short in the speed department. His first start over hurdles was a shocker, as Bryan Cooper employed hold-up tactics for the first time and the horse lacked any real jumping fluency to be a beaten odds-on favourite at Navan.

But Tycoon Prince’s one run since suggests that this run can be forgiven as a blip. Coming to the second-last obstacle in the Navan Novices’ Hurdle, Tycoon Prince was travelling just as well as the highly regarded Bellshill before a jumping error cost him obvious momentum at an important time in the race. He eventually lost by 12 lengths, but the way he jumped and travelled was encouraging and given how quickly they tend to go early on in the Supreme, his tactical speed could be critical at the business end of the race. The fact he has now stayed 2m4f, albeit in a race where they went fairly slowly in the middle section, points towards Tycoon Prince having a bit of extra stamina too.” Ladbrokes Cheltenham Festival website

JETSTREAM JACK                   OR135 It will be touch and go whether he gets in. Only 14/1 for the Cheltenham Bumper last season he finished in the rear but he has been very consistent over hurdles with seconds to the likes of Thomas Hobson and Up for Review in a G2 no less. He may need further, he may need soft ground, he may be thrown in! Gordon Elliott to sportinglife.com “He’s in the Martin Pipe and the Coral Cup as well. I’ll have to speak with the owners and see. He’s a nice horse and my preference would be the Martin Pipe. I could have two or three runners in the race at least.”

CHILDRENS LIST                     OR139 There’s been money for this Mullins/Ricci entry in the last 48 hours and all the 20/1 has gone except for WH! 14/1 general. Nothing in the form book to suggest he will win a race of this nature. Never run in Graded company and beaten in two three mile handicaps most recently. Being a son of Presenting better ground should help but to me he looks like a staying chaser waiting to happen.

BLAZER                                   OR141 Easily won a Leopardstown handicap off an OR126 (had to be based on French form) and then turned out under a 5lb penalty when midfield in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Tightened up on the first bend and never competitive. Willie Mullins has indicated a preference for running in the Martin Pipe. So he was the beaten favourite in the Betfair (albeit with excuses) off OR131. He now steps up 4f and is lumbered with another 10lbs. Not for me!

“Blazer was beaten on his first two runs for Willie Mullins, but both were over fences, and he put up a really impressive performance when switched back to hurdles at Leopardstown in early February.  He jumped his hurdles well, he travelled well, and he won easily without really being extended. It was disappointing on the face of it that he could only finish ninth in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on his next run, given how well-in he was, racing under just a 7lb penalty, but that race came up just a week after the Leopardstown race.  The chance was worth taking, given how well-handicapped he was on paper, but you can easily allow him that.  And Willie Mullins said afterwards that a step up in trip should be the way to go with him. It appears that he is going to step up in trip now at Cheltenham, that he is going to run in either the Coral Cup or the Martin Pipe Hurdle over two and a half miles, and he will be of interest in either.  He is back up to a mark of 137, but that is a mark that he could surpass by a fair way.  He is only five and he has run just four times over hurdles in his life.  He has bags of scope for progression, and he is a much better jumper of hurdles than fences, at least for now.” Donn McClean Irish Field etc.

QUALANDO                            OR139 Last season’s winner of the Fred Winter at 25/1 off OR131. So that ticks the ground, big fields and Cheltenham boxes. Can’t fault the jockey and the trainer seems to have a plan! It’s just his form this season that has basically pants although a glimmer of improvement last time. Nicholls wins with the best horse not plots! Paul Nicholls to sportinglife.com “He ran a tidy race at Taunton and I deliberately ran him under Harry Cobden as the plan would be for him to ride him in the Martin Pipe. I’ve put a few in the Martin Pipe but he’s probably one that stands out.”

ITSAFREEBIE                           OR141 Is he a heavy ground specialist? His gutsy defeat of Le Prezien last time out was strong form and his probable pilot, Bridget Andrews has ridden Itsafreebie to victory before.









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