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 Schedule & Eurovision Fancy

30/3/21

Before looking ahead to April, we have to start with the Cheltenham Festival, my best ever with a 55 level points stakes profit following the victories of Heaven Help Us (e/w at 33/1), Put The Kettle On (ante-post e/w at 16/1), Mrs Milner (e/w at 14/1), Allaho (ante-post at 12/1), Chantry House (e/w ante-post at 12/1), Black Tears (e/w w/o fav) at 13/2, Galvin (ante-post at 6/1) and the Ballymore Reverse Forecast (paid 7/4) continuing our good form from Christmas and taking the overall Cheltenham Festival level stakes profits from when I started this service up to 133 points.

We had our each-way dividends too for placed horses, notably A Plus Tard (ante-post at 66/1 - grrrrrrrrr) who went so close in the Gold Cup plus Craigneiche (ante-post at 16/1) and The Bosses Oscar (each-way at 16/1) amongst the others, that pair landing us the 1-2 in the Coral Cup and Pertemps Final so hopefully some of you also threw a dart at the forecast. Not me, alas.

I will upload my usual Wash Up of the Festival in the early part of next week reviewing how our bets fared and highlighting horses for the rest of the spring and next season, which may include the first ante-post bet for Cheltenham 2022. I have a couple in mind that I am still thinking through. If any non-members would like to read my Festival review next week then please drop me a message.

In fact, if any non-members reading this blog are interested in membership ahead of a very busy spring and a major summer and autumn of sport with Euro 2020, Olympics, Ryder Cup and T20 Cricket World Cup all set to take place this year in addition to the big racing and sports events that we cover annually, you can drop me a message using the Get In Touch section on the home page.

As predicted almost 12 months earlier in my Wash Up of the 2020 Festival, the Irish would dominate the handicap hurdles, and they won all four, but I couldn’t envisage back then their domination of the Festival overall winning the Prestbury Cup 23-5. It could have been worse had the nose and short-head verdicts in the hunter chase and Grand Annual gone the other way and Envoi Allen (waits for Punchestown and a mouth-watering 3m clash with Monkfish) had stood up.

And this isn’t going to change anytime soon, in fact, it could get even worse as off the back of this crushing, even more British-trained horses are now likely to be aimed at other prizes instead of banging their heads against the wall in terms of taking on better horses in the Grade 1s (and other conditions races) and better handicapped horses, notably over hurdles.

Paul Nicholls, for example, has said that he has at least one horse pencilled in for every race at Aintree next week. Remarkably, Nicky Henderson couldn’t muster one single runner in a novice hurdle at Cheltenham this season and more trainers are now aiming their best novices at the competitive handicaps at the Festival which they feel offers them a better chance than taking on the might of the Irish in these divisions, only to ‘discover’ that the Irish are also better handicapped. They are also just better all round.

The other major talking point (outside of a sensational week for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore….oh and Tiger Roll….gosh there were so many this year that even the Elliott story got lost during the week and he would have been leading trainer!) was the success of mares assisted by their 7lb allowance, which helped Put The Kettle On to narrowly win the Champion Chase, though I doubt that made the difference to Honeysuckle winning the Champion Hurdle. Heaven Help Us, Mrs Milner and Mount Ida (all in handicaps) were other winning mares at the meeting outside of the two races restricted to their own sex.

What odds that we could see Honeysuckle emulating the greatest jumps mare of them all in Dawn Run in attempting the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double? Back in the day Paddy Mullins’ mare was only receiving 5lb when winning the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, and by small margins it should be added. I do think that Honeysuckle would have gone chasing next season had she not won the Champion Hurdle so I very much hope they see that race as Part 1 of the job of the ultimate double in jumps racing.

Onto the flat where we made a decent start with Orbaan (40/1 fifth) paying an each-way dividend in the Lincoln. I am getting older. My eyes are feeling it and I have certainly noticed a deterioration in the last year in this respect so I really need to protect them better and therefore cut down somewhat on the masses of screen work that I have to put in, in terms of study, writing and then watching the events unfold.

There is quite a lot more content on the website than when I launched it 5½ years ago (back then there was no football, snooker, rugby and big race trends for example) so I am making a couple of changes in order to achieve this, though the timing isn’t great having taken on writing the golf column this year! We also have Euro 2020 coverage on the horizon which I will be covering so I feel that something has got to give in order to give my eyes more of a break. The first thing that I am doing on April 12th when retailers re-open is going to my O2 shop and upgrading to a much bigger phone that I can actually read!

What I will also be doing is dispensing with my fortnightly Horses to Follow column. I’m not sure that it adds much to the website looking at the number of click-throughs it receives compared to the rest of the other columns (easily the lowest) and Andy Richmond writes a weekly horses to follow column, Beating The Bias, for the flat season for us anyway which is in far greater depth than mine. The plan is for BTB to return on a weekly Tuesday slot after the Craven Meeting.

Onto Aintree next week for which I uploaded my Big Race Trends for all 28 races on Monday and it promises to be a cracking three days looking at the cast list with many of the Grade 1s being more competitive than at Cheltenham with the Irish holding most, though not all, of their best horses back for Punchestown.

Sadly there will be no historic Grand National hat-trick attempt from Tiger Roll with his owner deciding that he was poorly handicapped despite winning the race twice (and the second time when officially 8lb ‘well in’ making that argument even more pathetic) arguing that he was not the horse of two years ago. Why they couldn’t wait until seeing him run at the Cheltenham Festival before re-evaluating his wellbeing instead of taking the decision to officially remove him from the race before then, heaven only knows (pettiness, ego and plain stubborn come to mind) having looked back to his best there where he could be called the winner after just two fences in my view.

Tiger Roll could still be at Aintree on Thursday though in the Bowl which is set to feature A Plus Tard who Henry de Bromhead feels is better racing left-handed hence his presence here rather than at Punchestown. Stats say it’s hard to win the Bowl after a hard race in the Gold Cup so, who knows, the Tiger could yet roar again at Aintree.

As for the Grand National, we are well ahead of the market with Any Second Now (recommended in December each-way at 33/1) being the 10/1 second-favourite behind Cloth Cap who is officially a massive 14lb ‘well in’, hence his position as the 4/1 market leader. Any Second Now is officially 2lb ‘well in’ after winning his prep race over two miles and much fewer than normal contenders are ‘well in’ this year.

My favourite angle into the race these days as the race becomes more normalised is which horses are ‘well in’ so treating it like a normal handicap. Trying to find the best handicapped horse is usually the best way of attacking handicaps but that sometimes gets lost in all the facts and figures and luck-in-running required to win the Grand National. Four of the last 13 winners were officially at least 5lb ‘well in’ having improved since the weights were unveiled in mid-February. In addition, Sunnyhillboy was defeated by just a nose in 2012 attempting to do likewise and Balthazar King was another runner-up that was ‘well in’. This is significant as not many contenders are ‘well in’ at all, let alone to the tune of 5lb+.

This is my favourite time of the year. To be frank I feel that a big weight is lifted from my shoulders once Cheltenham is over year after year given all the work that goes into that and wanting to get good results so it starts to get a lot more fun from here with a lot less pressure. Especially so this year after a great Cheltenham and Covid restrictions now lifting. Heck, even the golf clubs are coming out today given the sun is out.

The spring is properly here which in addition to Aintree also means the Fairyhouse Easter Meeting, Scottish National Meeting, Sandown, Classic Trials Season, Punchestown Festival, Guineas Meeting and, in sport, the Masters and World Snooker Championship. I’ll be covering all the top class racing between the race previews and Ante Post Focus starting with the Irish Grand National tomorrow - see if we can find another Burrows Saint at 16/1 like in its last running.

I’ll be covering The Masters for the first time in five years and off the back of a profitable WGC World Matchplay last week so I have some golfing punting profits to play with for Augusta. I usually know at least a week in advance who my main man will be but that’s not the case this year - it looks so open. The one player that I know it won’t be is Rory the Rat. My preview will be uploaded a week today and then I’ll return later that weekend for an update.

Whilst on the subject of golf, by how far are USA going to win the Ryder Cup in September by the way? How Stricker gets six wildcard picks and Harrington just three is beyond belief just for starters. Then the unignorable class chasm in terms of strength in depth this year on top of the fact that it’s a home game for the Americans with the course set up to suit their strengths and the European star players’ weakness (putting) in Stricker’s home state. Plus no ageing Woods or Mickelson this time who were woeful in the last Ryder Cup they lost but the 47-year-old Lee Westwood looks like re-entering the European fold. It could be a Prestbury Cup-style hammering. Odds of 8/11 look a gift to me. Could be 2/5 come the event.

George Weyham was unfortunate not to give us a nice profit with his Tour Championship recommendations last week with his 33/1 each-way pick, Barry Hawkins, who held a 9-6 lead in his semi-final over Ronnie O’Sullivan, then losing the final four frames! In truth, he bottled it big time. Ronnie smelt blood and ripped him to pieces over those final four excruciating frames to watch for backers of The Hawk. George will be covering the World Snooker Championship that starts on April 17th after the qualifying to end the season. My personal take is that Mark Selby is still seething from the way he lost his semi-final against O’Sullivan in the belated championship held in late summer last year that he will be extra keen to put that right and win it for a fourth time.

Of course spring also means the conclusion of the football season, the start of the Premier League Darts (put back this year from a February start so there are more nights with fans) and my guilty pleasure of the Eurovision Song Contest in May!

Having given up on this season’s Premier League by Christmas, it is the cup competitions and Euro 2020 (as it is still be called) that will attract my attention for the rest of the season. Manchester City are 7/1 to complete the Quadruple and I fancy that they will win all three domestic competitions but, being on PSG at 10/1 from the outset for the Champions League, that’s the one that I hope lets them down. Unfortunately the French champions have drawn the defending champions, Bayern Munich in next week’s quarter-finals so a repeat of last season’s final. I actually thought that PSG were the better team in the first half of that final and missed two glorious scoring opportunities so I remain hopeful rather than confident.

As for my pre-Christmas 18/1 each-way recommendation for the Europa League, Villareal have drawn Dinamo Zagreb in the quarter-finals which was the best draw they could have hoped for being the 66/1 outsiders left in that competition. As such Villareal are now a top price 6/1 to win the tournament. I’m getting more than hopeful.

I hope that you enjoyed our first dip into Rugby Union and thank you to Paul Matthew for his weekly coverage of the Six Nations where he showed the slitherest of profits. I’m not really a rugby fan in either code (I will watch zero of this year’s Rugby League World Cup) but enjoyed the games I watched in this series.

Premier League Darts returns on Monday for another long season. After speaking with Mike Henderson, we are not going to cover the event on a weekly basis as before as results have proven to be most unpredictable in this format so he will preview the event from an outright perspective, return half-way through the event (around Judgement Night) for an update and then return to cover Finals Night.

The Eurovision Song Contest isn’t until May 22nd (I know you have it marked in your diaries) but the way to get ahead of the market in the past was to listen to all the entries as soon as they were revealed and last week I managed to get through all 40.

Ideally I would have liked to have done this earlier but putting in the prep work for something called the Cheltenham Festival meant that was too difficult and there have already been significant shorteners, though the market seems to have settled down now. Be prepared for stacks of movers in what is one of the most volatile markets you will witness on any event in the final fortnight though. This used to be my second income in the early noughties when taking advantage of the opening prices but punters are so much more wised up to this now taking away much of that edge.

In the recent past I have put up my fancy in this April blog ahead of the full-blown preview once we know the 25 finalists for Attheraces after the two semi-finals during Eurovision week. And with much success too putting up Portugal at 14/1 before they won at 3/1 four years ago and, in the last Eurovision in 2019 (didn’t take place last year and I’m not sure how they will do it this year), I went with Italy e/w at 20/1 who went on to finish second.

After going through all the entries again and then those that have semblance of a chance a few more times, I am now ready to commit. I’ll spare you all the spiel until the preview the day before the Grand Final but I am ready to commit and…..……I like Italy again who are currently 9/1 which strikes me as an acceptable each-way price (1/4 odds 1234).

It’s a rock track and the closest act that I can compare them to would probably be Green Day in terms of their image, and in my view it is the best song in the competition. For all the politics, the best song still wins more often than not since jury votes were brought in to make up 50% of the total scores. That will be lost on most punters. I’ve not heard it live yet which is the niggle but if they can replicate the energy and charisma from the studio version and video to the stage, it could be quite a performance.

Four of those in the higher echelons of the betting are the same artists that were set to represent their country last year and also to the fore in the market back then. The UK also go with the same artist. In every case though, the song isn’t as strong as 12 months ago despite trying to make it sound as similar as they can get away with in parts (only songs written in the last 12 months can enter) when they headed the betting. Switzerland and Bulgaria wouldn’t be that big a drop in quality of song from last year (exactly the same type of song) but Iceland and Lithuania’s entries have definitely taken a nosedive.

The two favourites, Malta (will score higher in public vote) and Switzerland (likely to win the jury vote), have gone down the road of trying to emulate the last two winners, Israel and the Netherlands, but I think that after the year we’ve all just endured, maybe Europe might be ready for something like the Italian entry to shake up the competition, they are rarely out of the top 10 (six Top 6s without winning since 2011) and keen to win it and Europe loves a bit of Green Day.

Forza Italia!

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