The Christmas Mug

By Stephen Cass

 

Christmas racing, festive cheer, bumpers, chasers, stayers

It ends up the exact same every year – a bonanza for the layers

And this year was no different, with punters feeling all agog

Whether you backed Might Bite, Getabird, Menghli Khan or Politologue

 

Kempton was like Leopardstown, with upsets in the air

Verdana fucking Blue downing the mighty Buveir D’air

Paul Nicholls deserved his celebration meal; a Big Mac he did gorge

As they toasted Clan des Obeaux – triumphant in the King George

 

On to Thursday, Altior! – normality resumes

Until Simply Ned caught Footpad out, running home on fumes

JP sent eight to the PP Chase, and Auvergnat caused a shock

But spare a thought for John Kiely’s legend – the gallant Carlingford Lough

 

A race that passes a nation by, unless it is refixed

A plodder or a future star? Opinions are betwixt

But one thing is for certain, he battles and he scrapes

A proper, jumping staying type, is Elegant Escape

 

The 28th and Ruby’s mounts made nasty, crashing sounds

First Bacardys and then Faugheen both tumbled to the ground

When having a new year’s tipple, raise a glass and take a sup

And thank the man or woman upstairs, that Faugheen did get up

 

At the Festival Apples will go Mares; it really is no fun

But credit to the gorgeous girl, as that’s her eighth Grade One

At Limerick, awesome Espoir D’allen, another for JP’s bounty

But for Christ’s sake do the right thing and go Champion not the County

 

With Samcro flopping once again, they might come to their senses

Hindsight is twenty twenty, but that beast was built for fences

That retrospective thinking really is irrelevant and shallow

But not as naff as the naming of the horse that won the Challow

 

As I run on to glass of wine number four, I struggle with my rhyming

Sharjah rhymes with fuck all you see, and I’m losing all my timing

But for your new year’s resolutions I leave you one piece of advice

When you’re tempted by a mug four-fold, you really should think twice

 

 

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EUROVISION ANTE-POST

By far my favourite annual event to punt on is Eurovision. It’s a rare event where bookmakers are extremely competitive and yet it is possible to have a big edge over them. I don’t think many horse-racing punters can beat the sum knowledge of a big bookmakers trading room. The chips are stacked in the bookmakers favour, even seasoned punters will acknowledge that. However with Eurovision you can study the videos and live performances, take into account valuable opinions (from knowledgeable people who thankfully don’t punt), and develop a knowledge on scoring systems and trends that mean you can punt with a hand stacked in your favour.

Closer to the event there will be a huge variety of markets where there will be plenty of wrong prices to avail of, but at the moment the outright market is the only real game in town. Bookmakers are offering 1/4 the odds 4 places but realistically there are only ten to twelve runners that can win. Once we get to see rehearsals that number will be down to somewhere between four and eight and yet there will still be 4 places available. That doesn’t mean the four places will be filled by just favourites but I would say it’s likely three of the first four places will come from the top 6 in the betting. Therefore it is a glorious each way punting proposition.

For the purposes of this blog I’m going to focus on the top ten in the betting at the moment and rule them in or out. We can then have a brief look at the outsiders.

In case you’re wondering about Ireland or the UK, both are atrocious in their own little way. Ireland won’t qualify from its very strong semi-final and the UK will finish in the bottom five or six.

Just one small point: Eurovision voting is based 50/50 on televoting and jury voting from each country. So there will be a lot of references to this. To win Eurovision you need to do very well with both.

Ruled Out (in order of betting market best price)

  • Czech Republic (7/1) – derivative, dislikeable and dated Justin Timberlake tripe. There is no vocal range and live performances are not encouraging. Jurors won’t like this and televoters will see through Mikolas in a heartbeat.
  • Australia (14/1) – it sounds like fucking Steps. That’s enough of a reason to rule it out. I have a feeling they might rescue it with a brilliant stage show and hit top 5 but the song is so weak and so dated it cannot win.
  • Bulgaria (16/1) – no chorus and too disjointed with so many performers.
  • Norway (22/1) – that’s not how you write a song. No amount of energy and stagecraft can hide how bad this song is.
  • Netherlands (22/1) – this is only so high in the betting because Netherlands surprised with a country number in 2014. The difference here is this song sounds like Bon Jovi and a Nashville song generating algorithm had a baby.

 

The main contenders

This elimination process has left me with the following; each of which I will deal with in turn: Israel (15/8), Estonia (11/2), Belgium (12/1), Sweden (16/1) and France (22/1).

The Israeli song was one of the last announced and the betting markets grabbed Netta as favourite with both hands as the market struggled to take shape. I wonder if it was announced in February would it be in its current market position? Personally I doubt it. It is definitely a strong song with good hooks and it can certainly win. However it is a terrible price and there are loads of reasons to take it on. Firtsly Netta’s performances can be very aggressive and she could alienate a lot of televoters instantly. Her other major problem is her vocals. When it comes to the juries vocals are EVERYTHING. From viewing her live performances the vocals can be sketchy at times and Toy is a song that doesn’t give much opportunity to give an expansive vocal performance that jurors like to see. It could be odds on come the final and I’ll be getting my laying boots firmly strapped on.

The Estonian entry is an average operatic number with an amazing vocal performance. It looks nailed on for a strong jury showing but it’s too short in the betting at the moment to merit consideration. The entire performance is likely too old fashioned for televoters. It’s one to watch closely in rehearsals however.

Belgium should have won last year but a really weak staging let down the best song in the competition and they finished 4th. This year they come with a “Bond” number with a very competent performance. My main concern is a better Bond song won in 2014 and there are better songs in this competition. I wouldn’t put you off an each way bet if you fancy it but I don’t think it has enough gravitas to win the contest.

The Swedes tend to send a competent male pop-robot and this year is no different. The contemporary sound and likely show-stopping staging will give this song every chance of a strong showing but the breathy vocals and clinical nature of the song are off-putting for me and there isn’t enough of a hook in the chorus to grab televoters. I could see this song winning or finishing tenth but at the moment I am veering towards the latter. Rehearsals may change my views.

And so we come to France. Mercy was the second song revealed for the competition way back in the depths of January and I strongly feel it went under the radar. The song is contemporary electro-pop with excellent vocals. It sounds modern, unique amongst the competition, and importantly it has a strong political message about refugees crossing the Mediterranean (I suggest you watch this for yourself before you back it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3T3EGaIwIbA).

When commentators discuss the songs message on the night it will no doubt hit home with voters. More important is the song itself and its structure lends itself perfectly to becoming a fan favourite. The serious message of the song fits in beautifully with the slow-tempo build-up to the chorus. As well as the likeable more up-tempo chorus the song has a memorable hook where it builds to a crescendo of repetitions of Mercy. Fans in Lisbon will know the catchy hand action that goes along with this part of the song and it will look powerful in the large hall. I see no problems with the song scoring well with juries as it is packed with integrity, intensity and it’s a chart friendly number.

The one major worry is the outfits and staging. The black clothing worn in national finals is drab and the male performer who sombrely strums the guitar distracts and drags down the performance. If France can tweak these issues, potentially turning the weaknesses to strengths, then they are a massive price at 22/1. I have had a big each way bet and I could easily envisage a scenario whereby Israel wins semi-final one and goes off 8-11 with France a coming force at second favourite on the night.

The outsiders

One of the outsiders will spring from nowhere and hit the top 5. The realisation that the market has missed a contender may happen at rehearsals or it may happen at the semi-finals. Two I would flag up are Portugal (66-1 each way or 180 win on Betfair), and Switzerland (500-1 each way). Portugal come with another smokey, jazz number and given that is what they won with last year it has been overlooked. I think it’s one of the stronger songs and rehearsals will be fascinating to see how it’s received. I have had a small win bet at 180 and a moderate each way bet at 66-1. The Swiss song sounds like a Pink chart-hit to my ears and I find the tempo and cadence uplifting. The problem is the female lead’s outfit choice and performance doesn’t fit the song. If you decide to back it I suggest a €1 each way stake. That’s about all it’s worth.

The dream double

Landing the Grand National / Eurovision double is my holy grail. With the shape of the race this year I am looking for a big-priced, low weighted, guaranteed stayer. Beeves ran up a sequence of staying chases last summer without going up too much in the handicap and returned for this campaign with two runs that culminated in a moderate run in the cross country chase at Cheltenham. If that experiment is forgiven he could well outrun his 100/1 odds. He has been over the National fences before, finishing a far from disgraced 8th of 22 in the Becher on his seasonal reappearance in 2016. He led for most of the race before understandably tiring but he showed plenty of relish for the unique challenge of the Aintree obstacles. A €2 each way double returns around €5,000 with Betfair and Paddy Power when the duo inevitably romp to victory!

To sum up……

For those of you rightly scrolling to the end for the selections:

  • France 22/1 each way is a fantastic bet
  • Portugal 66/1 is best of the outsiders
  • Beeves for the Nash at 100/1 with a nice 2,323/1 each way double with France

Come Eurovision week I will be writing for the Racing Post. You will be able to find my thoughts there. Inevitably I will be tipping something I probably ruled out above.

 

 

 

 

 

a christmas poem

It started on Tuesday, all stuffed from their dinner

The each-way thieves were on to a winner

Twisters grey horse was their number one guy

But he doesn’t go right, that Bristol de Mai

 

So on to the victor, the great rogue Might Bite

The Brits had a contender, to put up a fight

They’d win Gold for sure, at Cheltenham they reckoned

But wait! cried the hordes, Double Shuffle was second

 

And then came the Wednesday, would pain have no end?

The whip in the wrong hand, you dumbass Townend

While over at Kempton, with sales on at Zara

Head over heels, went Special Tiara

 

With Chepstow abandoned, the weather was dour

A grade one, for fucks sake, went to Whiskey Sour

Sharjah and Real Steel they fell with a dunt

Straight after the departure of the bauld Menghli Cunt

 

A new day it dawned, we thought ‘twould be great

But things only got worse, on the twenty eighth

It was getting quite spooky, almost paranormal

When Sizing John returned; clinically abnormal

 

Djakadam was just as bad, he gave up the gig

As did Yorkhill – the rogue, dog and pig

For Townend it got worse, he lost his companion

In front of the stands, oh poor Nichols Canyon

 

And on to the last day, it couldn’t get worse

When Monalee fell, this meeting is cursed

And then something happened, which shouldn’t be seen

The public embarrassment of the once great Faugheen

 

We’ll dissect and analyse, with much fanciful thought

Of low sun and bad rides and jockeys being bought

And all I will think of, throughout all the talk

Is what I will back under lights at Dundalk

November ante-post

We’re in full flow in the national hunt season now and while I am generally a died in the wool Irish racing man I must acknowledge the wonderful charms of the top UK handicaps at this time of year. The Ladbrokes Gold Cup, the artist formerly known as The Hennessy, is by a mile my favourite race of the year. Nothing can beat a big field of Gold Cup class horses in a blood and thunder handicap at Newbury, where any flaw in a horses jumping technique seems to be exposed more than any track save perhaps Cheltenham.

My affinity to the race is definitely helped by the fact I backed Denman, Madison du Berlais, Carruthers and Native River in recent iterations. Does that count as after-timing? It probably does. Anyway, in this blog I am going to have a stab at finding the winner of this race, the BetVictor Gold Cup, and the Greatwood hurdle; the holy trinity of November racing handicaps and the downfall of many thousands of ten to follow lists the world over.

BetVictor Gold Cup

Outside of Cheltenham festival races, I tend to take a two-pronged approach to analysing ante-post markets. The obvious and more traditional approach is to find the one at a juicy double figure price that you feel has significant scope to shorten in price as the big day arrives. Like any ante-post punter I will do this as a matter of course. My second approach is based on my view that likely on the day favourites tend to be overpriced in top handicaps in the weeks leading up to the race.  Generally the bookmakers go around 10-1 the field but we know that the favourite on the day will go off somewhere between, let’s say, 7-2 and 6-1. Therefore pinpointing this horse is an approach I very much like to tackle in the weeks leading up to top handicaps. For the highlight of the November meeting I’m happy to back one horse that fits each approach.

The first is Tully East, winner of the Close Brothers novice handicap chase at last season’s festival. The case for this horse is easy to make. He absolutely bolted up in that competitive handicap, swinging on the bridle coming to the last and winning going away at the finish. He clearly loves the track, his trainer Alan Fleming is in red-hot form with three winners from his last seven runners, and as a 7yo there is plenty of scope for improvement on his preferred good ground. A ten pound rise might not be enough to stop him and a recent pipe-opener over hurdles will have him spot on for the big day. He is worth backing at 9/1 – I think he will be favourite on the day and closer to half those odds.

The other one worth a look is Bentelimar. Having won a Wexford summer novice chase with a magnificent jumping performance I marked him down as a horse to follow. He was jumping and travelling really well through the Galway Plate when he upended  at the start of the back straight and you can forget his Kerry National sixth place as he doesn’t stay three miles. Now switched to Charlie Longsdon from Shay Barry he might prove better than his mark of 139, particularly if his new trainer can eke out a bit of improvement. At 40-1 he is definitely worth an interest.

Recommendation

1pt win Tully East (9-1 Paddy Power)

1pt win Bentelimar (40-1 Betfair sportsbook)

Greatwood Hurdle

Glancing through the previous winners of the Greatwood and it is plain to see the type of horse who performs well in the race. Thirteen of the last twenty winners have been aged 4 or 5 and there are plenty of horses who really stay two miles strongly standing out. The likes of Sizing Europe, Rooster Booster, Dell Arca, Menorah and Old Guard fit the staying two miler bill. With The New One likely to make all at a searching gallop this race could fall into the lap of a strong staying and strong travelling type.

One horse who fits the bill perfectly is Nietzsche and he has been completely overlooked in the betting. He absolutely tanked through last years Fred Winter and could have won the race if he had been held onto a little longer and had jumped the last a little better. His stout pedigree and strong travelling nature give him all the tools to win a race like the Greatwood and he is only six pounds higher than his Fred Winter run. He seems to have been priced up on the back of a couple of moderate flat runs but the case can be made he is a different animal over the obstacles where his form reads 2213113.

Recommendation

1pt win Nietzsche (16-1 generally)

Ladbrokes Trophy

If you gave me the choice of watching one race and one race only before the Cheltenham festival it would hands down be Newbury’s winter higlight. The mix of novice and established form, the stiff jumping test and the raging betting market make this the highlight of the entire winter in my book.

Total Recall now heads the market and he is well entitled to be there having put up an immense performance off a 19 pounds lower mark in the Limerick National. However to go and win this race he will need to be somewhere near a 160 horse. While that isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility I’m not willing to take a short price to find out.

One horse who very very easily could be a 160+ horse is Acapella Bourgeois. He won two grade twos over hurdlers, achieving a rating of 141. Anyone who watched his hurdling career knew that chasing would be the making of him and he delivered on his early promise when winning a grade 2 three mile chase at Navan by a mere 32 lengths. In behind that day was the now 163 rated Road to Respect and while the form cannot be taken literally it did highlight the immense potential of Acapella Bourgeois on his day and with his conditions. He was sent off 5-1 in the RSA and attempted to trade blows with Might Bite throughout the race. Once Might Bite saw him off Acapella folded and fell out the back of the telly but I have a sneaky suspicion he didn’t like the track at Prestbury Park and it just wasn’t his day. If you can forgive that run it is very easy to forgive his subsequent moderate run at Punchestown, where the RSA will have indelibly left its mark.

As such, his current mark of 151 looks very generous with the switch from Sandra Hughes to Willie Mullins a major positive. With the Troytown and Paddy Power in Ireland restricted to horses with a maximum rating of 150 this race is the logical port of call for the strapping son of Network. Still only 7 and likely to have the brilliant Paul Townend as his pilot the 20-1 availble should be readily snapped up, particularly if there is any indication forthcoming from Clossuton that this race is the target. It is not inconceivable this horse will be winning Lexus and Irish Gold Cups later in the season given his slick jumping and preference for soft ground. Pray for rain at Newbury, pray for Willie to make the right call, and pray for Townend to get the nod. If the Gods align and that triumvirate comes up, then get the wheelbarrow out and get as much on as you can at anything above double figures.

Recommendation

2pt win Acapella Bourgeois (20-1 generally)

Four festival fancies (it’s never too early)

Before you read on, may I say I completely accept what a waste of both of our times this escapade is. Festival ante-post betting is a complete minefield at the best of times. Plenty out there will tell you there is lots of winners to be found tomorrow. Many more will say that there is too much focus on Cheltenham and the Tingle Creek is a race to be cherished in its own right. I would hate to be one of those people. The whole joy of the national hunt season is the magical build-up to the greatest sporting event in every calendar year. My view on “the narrative” is we are damn lucky to have it and we should be embracing it. So, with that in mind, here are four completely pointless festival long-shots.

Cloudy Dream – Cheltenham Gold Cup (50/1 Bet365, 200 on Betfair)

Following the sad demise of Many Clouds, Trevor Hemmings would dearly love another high class staying chaser and I am confident he has one on his hands in the shape of Malcolm Jefferson’s strapping 7yo grey. The case for this chap to develop into a Gold Cup contender is easily made so it is surprising he is not even quoted in most of the bookmakers lists.

In seven chase starts he was never outside of the front two, including when a fortunate second to Altior in the Arkle. I always prefer a horse with the class to travel in a race like the Arkle heading up in trip than opting for grinders and plodders. However the most promising piece of form in the context of staying chases came after the Arkle, when he took the Future Champions Novices Chase at Ayr over 2m4f. Coming to the closing stages he looked held by Theinval, a solid 150 stick, but as his stamina kicked into play he winged the last and won going away, absolutely powering through the line.

Jefferson said all last season a step up in trip would always be on the cards. To my eyes Cloudy Dream will improve significantly for it and if he can find a stone improvement he will very much be thereabouts in the Gold Cup picture. Any three figure prices on the exchanges should be duly snapped up.

Politologue – Queen Mother Champion Chase (25/1 Bet365, 32 on Betfair)

It goes without saying the Queen Mother revolves around Altior and Douvan but given the misfortunes of so many horses in ante-post lists there could be something to be said for tackling the races where a hotpot takes out most of the book. I’m sure the following names from last years build up will ring a few bells. Thistlecrack, Annie Power, Don Cossack, Faugheen, Min, Sprinter Sacre, Coneygree…………anyway you get the picture.

Politologue strikes me as a horse that was wrongly campaigned last year. Always free-going he was being asked to stretch out his stamina over middle distance trips and while he was getting the job done, he came across as a horse with bags of ability but with a few of his own ideas about the game.

However the penny well and truly dropped over two miles at Aintree in the Maghull Novices Chase. Down the back straight his brilliant jumping took him to the front along with the tearaway Charbel. Forceful tactics from there on saw a terrific jumping display, with the 6yo grey taking a length or two out of the field at every obstacle. Forest Bihan loomed to challenge jumping the last but Politologue put two lengths into him with a mighty jump, only to somehow stumble and crumple to the floor a few strides after the fence. That was a sore blow but I am sure Paul Nicholls came away from that race knowing he has a right tool on his hands at the minimum trip.  I am really looking forward to seeing this classy type ridden from the front and if he goes and bolts up in the Haldon Gold Cup as I expect him to he will become the main UK challenger to Altior.

I would also be keen to back him to beat that rival at some stage this season. While Altior has looked infallible around Prestbury Park, he looked less assured at Sandown and Kempton last season and may be vulnerable to a horse getting a soft lead off a slower pace. Politologue is the ideal candidate to test that supposition.

Movewiththetimes – Arkle Chase (25/1 generally, 22 on Betfair)

A gorgeous big and raw son of Presenting, Movewiththetimes is perhaps the forgotten horse of last years novice hurdlers. On only his fifth career start he was touched off when trying to give Ballyandy a pound in the ultra competitive Betfair Hurdle. That was a massive performance given his inexperience. On the weekend leading up to Cheltenham he was  no bigger than 6/1 to win the Supreme but a minor muscle injury ruled him out of the festival and the rest of the season.

Paul Nicholls always maintained that Movewiththetimes will improve immeasurably for another season and fences so the fact he achieved a hurdles rating of 146 without tackling a spring festival speaks volumes for his ability. Nicholls has said he compares very favourably to the likes of Al Ferof. If he is in that bracket, and everything suggests he is, he will be right at the top of the British novice chasing ranks. The Arkle has a weakish look to it at the top of the market and come Christmas I fully expect to see Movewiththetimes in the top two or three in the betting for the race. The 25/1 available rates a cracking bet.

Paloma Blue – Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle (not yet quoted)

I can’t go through an ante-post preview and not tip one Irish horse, however I didn’t think I would be “tipping” one that isn’t even quoted in the ante post lists. However this horses omission from the novice hurdle races betting appears to be oversight as opposed to a reflection of his chances.

In the past three seasons Henry de Bromhead is just 2 from 64 in bumpers. Given he is one of the finest trainers in Ireland this is a striking statistic, as de Bromhead makes no effort to wind up his good horses for the training ground of national hunt flat races. For Paloma Blue to stand above the parapet marked him out instantly as something special. His Fairyhouse bumper win highlighted both his greenness and a tonne of ability as he veered his way to victory over a strong field after travelling into the race with notable comfort. He was then sent to the Punchestown to tackle Fayonagh in the Grade 1 Champion Bumper. The teak tough mare was too good for him on the day but Paloma Blue was an excellent second and pulled seven lengths clear of the remainder of the field.

Last season de Bromhead sent out Monalee to finish 2nd in the Albert Bartlett. Monalee was a horse who tried and failed to win two bumpers under the Waterford handler’s stewardship so Paloma Blue really is very far up the ladder in his career progression coming from this yard. De Bromhead was quoted in his ATR stable tour that the aim will be to step the Stowaway gelding up in trip as the season progresses and he will harbour hopes Paloma Blue can go one better than his stablemate in Friday’s novice marathon.

When the bookies get their house in order and finally give a quote, anything bigger than 25/1 would be very tempting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Festival Outsiders

A value loser is still value. That’s the maxim I live by with my punting habits; much to the bemusement of many of my racing friends.  I get more of a thrill backing a horse at 14/1 at Dundalk on a Friday night that goes off 5/1 than I do backing a 6/4 winner in a major race. The horse winning or losing is not quite irrelevant but it’s not where the fun lies for me. This probably sounds bonkers to some of you but my enjoyment of horse racing is hugely enhanced by betting market dynamics. To me, punting success is all about backing horses who will shorten in price. If you beat the market you will win in the long run. As you approach an infinite number of bets (I’m getting there) that becomes a mathematical certainty. So with that in mind, I hereby endeavor to give you five festival value losers.

Any Drama, Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle – 33/1 each way Betfair, nrnb

The case for this horse is very easy to make. Trained by last years winning handler  Harry Fry; Any Drama has been aimed at this race all year. Winner of his last two outings by a combined 53 lengths, he has the same RPR as hot favourite Death Duty. He comes out third best of the UK horses on official ratings.

His latest win at Exeter was particularly impressive where he gave weight away all round to admittedly poor horses. However it was the style of the performance that was eye-catching. Racing over an insufficient 2m2f Any Drama jumped and galloped his rivals into the ground. He has a touch of class having finished sixth in the Aintree festival bumper and Fry has stated all along he wants a real test of stamina to show his best.

The main concern is Harry Fry hates rating racehorses but the nrnb concession mitigates the risk. With plenty of horses ahead of him in the market not going to run in this grueller of a race, there is lots of scope for this price to shorten before the off.

Winter Escape, County Hurdle – 20/1 win only Paddy Power, nrnb

There’s something of a leap of faith to be made backing Winter Escape after his poor run in the Greatwood but there is plenty of juice in the price to justify the position. Having won his first three over hurdles, he was sent off 3/1 favourite for that race but he flagged on the soft ground and ran down the field. However he was reportedly a very sick horse after that race.

King has stated he still thinks Winter Escape is a very good horse and off 140 this grade 2 winner should have a nice racing weight and will likely be JP McManus’s number one hope. That factor alone will result in his price shortening and given the esteem he is held in it would be no surprise if he was thrown in off his current mark.

O O Seven, RSA Chase – 25/1 Sky Bet each way, nrnb

Road to Respect, RSA Chase – 40/1 Sky Bet each way, nrnb

Might Bite is strong favourite following his breathtaking performance at Kempton at Christmas but there is strong reasons to believe he is the weakest favourite of the entire festival. In fact I would go so far as to say he has no chance and I’ll be place laying him on the day.

The three key pieces of form to oppose Might Bite are all Cheltenham based. I defy anyone to watch his novice hurdle win at Prestbury Park and think this horse can win at the championship venue. He tanked into the race and approached the last five lengths clear while full of running. He then floundered, changed his legs and veered his way up the hill to hold on by a length against a hurdler currently rated 117. He looked punch drunk travelling up the hill and the two other occasions he tackled the course he fell out the back of the telly the moment he hit the bottom of the incline.

Nicky Henderson might still win the race in any event, as O O Seven looks overpriced at 25/1. He won a good 2m4f race by 10L to the 137 rated Sizing Tennessee. Seventeen lengths behind O O Seven were subsequent winners Rock the Kasbah (now rated 142) and Theinval (now rated 141). In O O Seven’s next run he was beaten 3.5L by Present Man at Doncaster, a very different test to Cheltenham. Following that he won a handicap at Huntingdon off 148, an impressive weight carrying performance. If he stays the trip he will have a big chance in a very weak renewal.

There is also a decent chance the staying UK novice chase form is simply weaker than the Irish equivalent. It makes sense to have an Irish horse on side in that respect. One horse who could be open to improvement is Road to Respect. Noel Meade’s 6yo beat the very useful Prince of Scars on his chasing debut. He was then eight lengths behind Coney Island in the Drinmore, a race where he looked crying out for a step up in trip. Surprisingly he dropped in trip for his next two starts where he ran very respectable races behind Min and Some Plan.

Finally stepping up to three miles at Naas nehind  Acapella Bourgeois; the time merchants tell us Sandra Hughes’ novice’s impressive win was all down to a sluggish pace. If that is the case then Road to Respect’s second place finish was a decent effort at his first attempt over three miles, as he was kept out the back and ran on to be a convincing winner of the race for minor honours. Road to Respect is completely unexposed at staying chase trips and given his decent back form over shorter he could be overpriced to run a big race on the Wednesday.

Brelade, Coral Cup – 20/1 Boylesports each way, nrnb

I am a sucker for a horse in the Harchibald colours and one such steed has been catching my eye all winter in top races. Beating Joey Sasa in a maiden hurdle is solid form, and following this up with two placed runs in grade one events is even better.

Gordon Elliott has always maintained this horse will improve for a trip and given he is only one pound higher than his Irish mark he looks set to run a huge race in whichever race he tackles at the Cheltenham festival. His action indicates he will improve for better ground and given he will have a lovely racing weight off 143, I am guessing this smart performer goes for the Coral Cup. The 20/1 is worth taking at this stage.