Clear, concise, comprehensive horseracing analysis and insight from Paul Jones, former author of the Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide, concentrating on jump racing in addition to the best of the Flat and leading Sports events.
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April Blog & Cheltenham Eye Catchers


With the website closing down until the start of The Jumps Season Service 2023/24 in late October once the Punchestown Festival has finished as I take my first proper break, this is the last monthly Blog until what will be the October version outlining details for next season.

That said, as alluded to in the General Sports column on March 26th, I will just keep the punchy, to-the-point, weekly Sunday morning column overseeing the best of the Flat Season and Sport between May-October running if there is sufficient interest from current members only. Early feedback has been promising in order to do so and full details are given in that column.

Looking back at the Cheltenham Festival, given the successes of recent seasons, I was disappointed that given all the time and effort invested that I couldn’t make it pay this time. I had given myself too much ground to make up from the early ante-post recommendations that fell by the wayside. A couple of on-the-day winners on Friday helped to claw some of it back and it was Good Time Jonny winning the Pertemps Final recommended at the five-day stage that was our highlight.

Of course there were bad-luck stories as it’s the festival after all and we had three win-only bets that finished second, were one place off nailing the trifecta in the Ballymore and a couple more each-way recommendations missed out by just one place at big prices so all of that was frustrating.

As was considering four of the winners earlier in the season and failing to pull the trigger but you would rather not hear about those. Oh alright then, the Constitution Hill-Delta Work double at 5/1 in Week 1 rather than advising short-priced singles, Marine Nationale at 10/1 after he won the Royal Bond and El Fabiolo at 6/1 at the same time when I went with him to win the Irish Arkle were all ‘Do I’ or ‘Don’t I’ jobs, which I now regret holding back on.

I made it my intention to have more earlier ante-post bets this season as if I had done so the previous season then our profits would have increased further but that decision backfired. Betting opportunities on the Cheltenham Festival are a moveable feast so next season I will have no policy as such and just play it as I feel it. That said, I don’t think it was getting involved early that hurt us this season per se, just bad early selections.

Onto the Grand National Meeting and beyond and earlier this week I re-watched Cheltenham and tried to come up with an eye catcher per race but couldn’t quite manage it. I did note the following for the future though:

Cheltenham Eye Catchers

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle: Prior to the race I felt that the most likely runner that could make up into a Champion Hurdle horse was the speed-based Marine Nationale and that proved to be the case so was beating myself up that I went with Il Etait Temps instead. He looked mighty good in victory but as for the less-obvious eye catcher, I don’t like held-up horses from further back than midfield in this race as it usually pays to be handy enough so the run of Diverge to stay on for third on soft ground for a son of Frankel having been in rear for the most part caught my attention. I am not a fan of the way Patrick Mullins rides over hurdles in general and especially at Cheltenham.

Arkle: It’s El Fabiolo. Did you also spot this one? Let’s hope that Mullins doesn’t choose to split him and Energumene up next season and will send the super-classy Arkle winner to the Champion Chase and not the Ryanair. I could see Jonbon in the Ryanair though as he shapes like he wants a longer trip now….and easier opposition.

Ultima: It definitely paid to be ridden in the second half of the field but not from as far back as Oscar Elite though who was sat in last place some 30l off the lead so his effort to finish fifth can be marked up. Tea Clipper ran well to finish best of those ridden that raced further forward, annoyingly missing out on an ante-post place dividend in sixth having been on him from two weeks earlier when expecting spring ground, especially as when the rain fell the soft conditions went totally against him. Maybe he’ll return to Aintree for the equivalent race in which he was fourth last year in which Tom Lacey has saddled the winner, second and fourth in the last four runnings?

Champion Hurdle: No eye catchers in behind. Let’s move on and hopefully connections of Constitution Hill will take a bold approach and send him chasing rather than sticking to the same three/four races over hurdles for the next few seasons.

Mares’ Hurdle: A great result for the feel good factor and headline writers but unless ridden in the first two in a contest run at such a sedate pace then you had very little chance. And if you sat in last place some 6-8l back whilst pulling your head off at such a moderate gallop like Echoes In Rain was, then you had no chance. Reined back after a fast leap three out took her into midfield, the two birds had flown when she was finally asked to go forward. A drop in trip will also help the eventual fourth.

Boodles: Virtually everything that could have gone wrong with Mr Freedom did go wrong so he fared remarkably well to finish fifth including with a slipped saddle, though that has been well documented. Risk Belle fared best of those held up in rear. Produced to lead at the last, maybe that effort to get there just caught up with her losing out in the final 100 yards only losing out by a neck.

NH Chase: Nothing really. Would Mahler Mission have won had he jumped two out? I’m in a minority here but I thought that he was tiring having kicked on from so far out so I am not sure myself. Gaillard Du Mesnil took an age to get going so whether Aintree is ideal for him, I’m also not so sure.

Ballymore: Danny Mullins had a proper job on to stop Champ Kiely from hanging right throughout with his left hand down even in between veering right at his hurdles so he has done well to finish third on the Old Course where such antics are punished all the more and I will be interested in him back on a right-handed course. Impaire Et Passe v Marine Nationale would be a race to see.

Brown Advisory: Gerri Colombe really should have won and he would be the only one of these to semi-interest me for next season’s Gold Cup. I am already thinking that I Am Maximus’ connections have next season’s NH Chase in mind for the fourth home providing that he keeps his novice status intact by not winning a novices’ chase this season. Bought by J P McManus after he stayed on having been outpaced from the end of the back straight to the home turn, he would have that important second-season chaser profile.

Coral Cup: It was Captain Conby who travelled best but he weakened it out of it quite tamely in the end so a sharper test could help him. Scaramanga was always prominent and hung on for fourth in his first hurdles start for 11 months on softer ground than he appreciates.

Champion Chase: No eye catchers here. It is not Energumene’s fault that his big rivals for the last two years just haven’t turned up on the day but I’d say that they will have done well to beat him if they had. On his day he is a proper powerhouse. We’ve had loads of dual Champion Chase winner but only Badsworth Boy has managed it three times.

Cross Country Chase: Nothing really. I always thought that Delta Work would find more than Galvin when push came to shove. Both head to the Grand National but I like my bets for Aintree to be carrying less weight than this pair.

Grand Annual: Dinoblue was far too free, made a mistake early and took the last two fences with her so did well to finish second. However, Thyme White would have beaten her had he not ploughed through the second-last and may well have even won given how he was the one always catching the eye. Best fresh, can he back this up at Aintree?

Champion Bumper: Given that Paul Nicholls reported that Captain Teague was only running for experience, he has run a blinder to finish third to the McManus-owned top two in the betting and official ratings. Expect him to be a leading British-trained novice hurdler next season and I dare say already a likely runner in either the Challow or Tolworth with Nicholls having won both of those mid-season Grade 1s this season.

Turners: Blimey, a British-trained 1-2 in a Grade 1 race. They may have had the run of the race in the first two throughout in a contest run at a moderate gallop but I was still very much taken by Stage Star who controlled proceedings untl headed rounding the final bend but Cobden was only biding his time and for the second time on this New Course, they pinged virtually every fence together. The Ryanair is on the same course and that will have to be his aim and double-figure quotes seem civil enough to me.

Pertemps Final: Having backed Good Time Jonny, my eyes were trained on him throughout and given how slowly he was away, hurled himself to the right at the first hurdle, had to take evasive action to bypass a faller at the second and then hardly jumped a flight properly afterwards, how much did he have in hand to win very cosily in the end? Last three out, he was still in rear and seemingly going nowhere two out. Could he do a Sire Du Berlais and win back-to-back runnings or even prove up to being Stayers’ Hurdle class in an open division like that same horse? I thought the other one to take out of the race was my other bet, Walking On Air, who was buried in midfield and didn’t get a clear run after turning for home. Had he not been checked and switched, I think that he would have finished second so I am convinced that he is still ahead of his handicap mark.

Ryanair: Shishkin had to underperform not to win and that’s what happened. This was the sweetest that I have seen Envoi Allen travel since his novice days but the one I took out of the race was Ga Law back in fifth. The plan was the Grand National but a last-fence fall in the Sky Bet Chase meant that he was not qualified and he was always finding 2m5f at Grade 1 level too sharp a test in rear, until he stayed on with purpose from two out to finish fifth. Qualifying him for Aintree next season (a top four finish over 3m+) will be priority number one.

Stayers’ Hurdle: Like most I was scratching my head at how the 11yo Sire Du Berlais could win having looked a candidate to be retired earlier in the season given how badly he was running and he was also the first one to be niggled along at the top of the hill. Although only fourth this season after winning it the previous twice I thought there was plenty to like about Flooring Porter’s run. He showed a lot more verve here than in his two previous two runs this season, in fact too much verve as he raced further clear of his rivals this time than in the last two years when he won, doing a little too much for Danny Mullins so did well in the circumstances. I expected him to drop away when passed but he stuck at it well.

Plate: The winner was never out of the first three underlining the advantage of racing on the pace in intermediate-trip handicap chases at Cheltenham so to come from rear to fly home for fourth, the 125/1 outsider Gevrey, very much caught the eye for Gordon Elliott and looks ready for a step up in trip. A drop in the other direction can help Shakem Up’Arry who just held him off for third. You couldn’t say that he didn’t stay but they ran him here as didn’t think he would get in the Grand Annual over 2m and he was going best turning for home. In second place jumping two out, stronger stayers then had his measure.

Dawn Run: The waiting tactics were overdone of the runner-up Magical Zoe who found the winner, who made all, had already flown by the time she was produced to get into the race from the rear. A slip shortly after two out didn’t help her cause or being carried left at the final flight after which she produced a good kick like on her previous start around five months earlier.

Kim Muir: An Irish 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 and I fancy this is strong handicap chase form and a race worth following the principals. Stumptown did little wrong in narrowly going down to Angels Dawn with Mr Incredible staying on to finish third and wandering on the run-in. He will be the main eye catcher for many having come from the rear but he is a monkey. I prefer the 1-2 going forward who are both novices that can have a say in other big handicaps going forward.

Triumph: Relatively easy-peasy for Lossiemouth who could be called the winner a long way out - the only worry was that she travelling too well and doing too much. The lesser-experienced Zenta shaped like the second best filly in the race where they finished 1-2-3. The only one to lay down a challenge to the winner getting to within a neck heading to the final flight, that effort to win the race told and she was caught close home for second. A flat 2m can see her to best effect.

County: Mistakes at the third and fourth hurt Filey Bay’s chance who finished third but in the same ownership the much bigger-priced Petit Tonnerre caught the eye in seventh over a trip shy of his best. Held up in rear, he was doing his best work late on and will be of interest when raised back in trip.

Albert Bartlett: Always in the firing line from the outset when they went hard early I was taken by how well the 66/1 outsider Thomas Mor stayed on for sixth. He looks a real, tough, hardy stayer for the Pipe yard to go chasing with as soon as possible and plot up handicaps for in the seasons ahead.

Gold Cup: He may not have beaten Galopin Des Champs who won in some style in a very strongly-run Gold Cup which hasn’t been the case in recent years which had big names in trouble early on but no buttons had been pressed on A Plus Tard who was following the winner when he was badly hampered six out and pulling up as a result soon after. It was Ahoy Senor who caused the damage by falling which was ironic as, although he kept edging right at his fences, this was the best that I have ever seen him jump until the point of his departure. A strong stayer, who knows how long he could have continued to lead the field for? I had been waiting all season for them to take the bull by the horns and just try to gallop them into the ground and it was all going to plan until he got in too tight and paid the penalty.

Hunter Chase: Nowt.

Mares’ Chase: The winner. I loved the terrier-like attitude here of Impervious who rallied to tenaciously see off Allegorie De Vassy despite not being as fluent as the runner-up at the final fence and being dwarfed by her rival so look forward to see what she can do again against the boys, like when winning the Killiney Novice Chase. What a little trier she is.

Martin Pipe: The winner again, Iroko, but only over a longer trip as he got away with it over this extended 2m4f. Sat handy in fourth for the first part of the race, he lost his position notably on the downhill run before gathering up a head of steam to storm back into the race and win comfortably going away in the end. He already has the build of a chaser so could be develop into a live contender for the Brown Advisory next season.

A few more general Cheltenham observations. How soft were the fences? Maybe the white take-off boards have helped with numbers of falls/unseats but horses also wouldn’t have got away with some of the mistakes they were making not so long ago. Therefore moving forwards, perhaps we shouldn’t get all that hung up on opposing horses whose jumping has been questioned? Rather like the Grand National now too.

Willie Mullins may have ‘only’ had six winners compared to ten last season but his shorties at no bigger than 5/2 delivered in the main in the conditions races; El Fabiolo, Gaillard Du Mesnil, Impaire Et Passe, Energumene, Lossiemouth and Galopin Des Champs. The pair that came up short were Facile Vega and Allegorie De Vassy and they only found one too good. It’s a question of identifying them early and then getting them in the right race.

As for the handicaps it was supposed to be follow the Brits in the chases but the Irish won three of the four and their fancied pair in the Ultima finished in the frame (good luck to the home team in the Grand National!) and follow the Irish in the handicap hurdles but the Brits won three of those five contests.

That’s enough Cheltenham natter. It’s done and time to look forward to April with Aintree, Punchestown and, before those, The Masters to enjoy with the World Snooker Championship and quarter-finals and semis-finals of the Champions League also taking place. Fingers crossed for Napoli who, and I say this conscious that I might be getting ahead of myself, have a nice-looking draw to the final having recommended them at 20/1 during the group stages and later suggested topping up at 14/1. My 8/1 FA Cup pick, Manchester United, are now anywhere between 9/4 and 100/30.

I’ll give some Masters fancies in Sunday’s General Sports copy and can find good reasons to take on plenty on the big names ahead of Day 1 on Thursday. I’ll be watching and covering both the golf and Aintree out in Spain for some much-needed sun having been somewhat cooped up inside for much of Boxing Day onwards. I’ll also cover the World Snooker Championship over three Sundays which starts on April 15th.

Andy Richmond’s Beating The Bias jumps column will continue on Mondays for the rest of the season. For those interested he will be running a private flat-based service for when this website takes a break until towards the end of October, bar potentially just the punchy General Sports column on Sundays.

As for Eurovision, I nailed my colours to Finand’s mast at 10/1 a good few weeks ago and they are now generally 4/1. Whether I will write a full-blown preview of the grand final on May 13th or not is in the hands of Attheraces but with other markets now emerging I’ll continue to look for other betting opportunities on it in the weekly General Sports columns.

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