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Tony's Trends - Cheltenham Day 4 - The County Handicap Hurdle and More

Publish Date: 17/03/2022
Fact checked by: James Leeland

Cheltenham Festival Day 4 - Focus on the County Handicap, 2 miles 1 furlong, Cheltenham, March 18 2022

Day 2 reviewed

Well, Day 2 was certainly eventful and I think the rain played a massive part in foiling a big JP McManus gamble in the Grand Annual. Andy Dufresne was backed in from double figure prices during the week into 100/30 favourite.

He just failed to reel in Global Citizen, who shocked a lot of people when winning at 28/1. The Trends would have told you the gamble was highly unlikely to come off, as he carried more weight than any previous winner!!!

Another shock was Shiskin being pulled up, with his trainer saying he hated the ground. So, his long-awaited round two clash with Energumene in the Queen Mother was as damp a squib as the weather.

And when did you ever hear the crowd boo a winner at Cheltenham before? Well, it happened when Delta Work beat his stable companion Tiger Roll in the Glenfarclas. It was a thrilling finish, but one which denied that legend a winning sign off to his racing career.

In the final race of the day, we were treated to a Champion Bumper full of future NH stars. The winner, Facile Vega, looks a serious machine and definitely one to follow.

Coral Cup review

As mentioned, the rain played havoc with conditions and only 15 of the 23 runners finished in this race, with the last horse trailing in some 71 lengths behind the winner! As for the Trends selections, I hope you took the advice and ensured you got BOG on the main selection MAZE RUNNER. He stayed on well, without ever looking like he would trouble the winner, but it was clear he would place and at an SP of 40/1 that returned us a decent profit yet again.

The EW savers I advised did not handle the ground well and both were pulled up. It was a risk I accepted when selecting the Bosses Oscar, who may not be in love with the sport after those bad runs over fences. After two days where I did not tip up a winner, the three Trends selections who placed still made us a tidy profit.

Cheltenham Festival Day 4

We are now moving on to the final day of the Festival and the centrepiece of the week, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. So, let’s once again look at some general Trends in the other races on the card. I hope I can help you find a winner, but just as importantly, avoid placing bets on short-priced losers!

Triumph Hurdle

This is a race that the Irish have begun to dominate, with seven winners since 2012. Eighteen of the last 23 previous winners posted a seasonal RPR in excess of 133, with four of the remainder changing yards shortly before the Festival.

I am focusing on the County Hurdle today, so a more detailed review will follow later.

The Albert Bartlet 

This race is relatively new, having been inaugurated in 2005, so we have just 17 renewals to consider for the Trends. This doesn’t leave us much to go on, but for this one, it pays to focus on horses aged six or seven years.

The Gold Cup

No ten-year-old has won this race since Cool Dawn in 1998. Nineteen of the last 21 winners had a single figure SP and the Irish have won six of the last eight renewals. Hopefully, using those Trends will point you in the right direction.

The Foxhunter

A tough choice, as most Trends have several caveats, given the type of runners here. Thirty one of the 33 previous winners ran between one and four times, with the last seven winners being aged either ten or 11 years. Previous form in the race is beneficial, if you are deciding between the last few horses.

The Mares Chase

As this is only the second time The Mares’ Chase has run, the Trends cannot help out here. But given the strength of the mares in the Mullins, Elliott and De Bromhead yards, I would expect the Trends will soon reflect their dominance

The end is near…

So now we come to the final race on the card. This after a tough four days of punting and for many, other over indulgences too, although possibly not the latter at Cheltenham bar prices!

The Martin Pipe

As this is a race confined to conditional jockeys, it pays once again to look for those in the plate who have shown previous ability. Also, look for horses with a seasonal RPR in excess of 134, The last eight winners all posted and RPR of 140, but no previous winner has exceeded an RPR of 148.

The County Handicap Hurdle review

My detailed Trend review will focus on the second race of Day 4. It is run over 2 miles and about a furlong. I am not entirely sure what the ground will be like after the downpour on Tuesday and the impact of previous races on the track.

We will look at all renewals since 1988, as we seek to establish the Trends and get a winner from the 26 who are currently declared.

Ages

Since 1988 all winners have been aged five years (x13), six years (x11), seven years (x3), eight years (x4) or nine years (x2).  Of the seven-year-olds, none has won since Spirit Leader in 2003, so we can therefore concentrate on those aged five, six and eight years.

Odds

This is an open Handicap and the SPs of the previous winners reflect this. From the 33 previous winners, 14 had SP’s of 10/1 or less, but only three in the last 14 renewals. Ten horses had SPs in the teens (three in the last 14 renewals) and nine had SPs of 20/1, or greater. Of the latter, these outsiders have obliged in eight of the last 14 renewals.

Weights

24 of the 33 previous winners carried between 10-00 and 10-13. Four carried between 11-00 and 11-02 with just three carrying 11-04 to 11-05. Only two winners carried more weight: Blowing Wind (11-08 in 1998, trained by M Pipe) and Artic Fire (11-12 in 2017, trained by W Mullins).

Nationality

While England has a lead here of 22 wins to Ireland’s 11, the Irish have dominated the race since 2007. Willie Mullins has provided five of those winners and for those looking to back an English-trained horse only Dan Skelton, with winners in 2016, 2018 or 2019, or Paul Nichols in 2009 have provided any solace.

  • The last 26 winners posted a seasonal RPR of between 128 and 154.
  • Irish horses posted RPRs between 128 and 145.
  • English horses posted RPRs between 130 and 154 (the only two in the 150s were Rooster Booster in 2002 and Sporanzene in 2004).
  • All but one English winner had run at the track previously, but since 1991 only two had won at the course.
  • It is a difficult task for Handicap debutants and only the Willie Mullins-trained Saint Roi (in 2020) managed to do this.
  • Only one conditional jockey has won this since 2000, Katie Walsh on Thousand Stars.
  • Since 2000, only Artic Fire had finished in the top five at a previous Festival.

Trend review

In short, the trends indicate we are looking for a horse who has a seasonal rating under 149, but not lower than 128 if Irish, or 130 if English, but has not won at Cheltenham previously and is aged five, six or eight years.

This immediately discounts eight runners who are outside the preferred age range. This means we discount the following eight horses, namely, Felix Desjy, Cask Mate, Irasible, Faivoir, Dysart Diamond, Colonel Mustard, Bua Boy and Ballyadam (Note:Henry De Bromhead’s record in Handicap Hurdles at Cheltenham is atrocious, so I would not back this even if it were a possible trends qualifier!).

Of the remaining runners, all meet the weight criterion with the exception of Call Me Lyreen (who also has a Conditional booked), so we will look at the seasonal RPRs to see if we can narrow it down further. Using this and being strict, we must eliminate the following two horses: Tritonic (just too high) and Tax For Max (too low).

We will also now remove the four previous course winners from consideration, so I Like To Move It, West Cork, Top Bandit and Cormier will be discounted.

Next, we will eliminate three of those remaining who have a Conditional booked to ride: My Mate Mozzie, Éclair De Beaufeu and Stepney Causeway.

Lastly, we will also remove any English runner who has not had a run at Cheltenham before, namely, First Street, which is the horse I put up as a saver in the Betfair Hurdle (see Trends #6).

Further discussion

We are now left with just seven possible qualifiers to consider in more depth. Here they are, in racecard order:

  • Jesse Evans
  • Farout
  • State Man
  • Surprise Package
  • Gua Du Large
  • Bloomfield Burg
  • Tempo Chapter Two.

Jesse Evans ran a belter when placing fourth in the Galway Hurdle, behind Saldier at Galway on good ground. He was sent off as favourite in the Greatwood behind West Cork and Tritonic last November, but ran disappointingly. Sean Flanagan replaces the young Conditional on this occasion and maybe he can get the horse to settle better in the early stages.

Farout has been competing against the top novices in Ireland, but unlike Saint Roi, who won as a Handicap debutant, he is unfancied and has been well beaten previously. He may improve, but he was campaigned over the Summer, which makes me question if he will handle the likely course conditions.

State Man has been another of Mullins’s ‘talking horses’ all through the lead-up to the Festival and his potential is clear. He beat Plains Indian by 12 lengths, without coming off the bridle and that one was coming to win a big field Handicap, when he tipped up at the final fence. He is another whose Handicap mark will be hugely underestimated and Paul Townsend has selected him to ride from the Mullins battalion, so you have been warned!!

Surprise Package was just that last time out, when cantering all over a supposedly competitive field in the Imperial Cup. He was tipped by Joe McCabe (JM Racing) who is a Ginger Joe affiliate, for the Discord group that day and returned at tasty odds of 20/1.

He had been looking exposed in Irish races, but bolted in and has been able to overcome a quick turnaround and run a big race before. He was also ahead of Fastorslow on his penultimate start and that one came close to winning the Coral Cup here on Wednesday. However, the poor record of Imperial Cup winners here is a concern and reluctantly he will not be a selection for me today.

Henry De Bromhead has provided 17 winners at the festival over the years, but for all his success (as I mentioned earlier) he has not provided the winner of a Handicap Hurdle at the Festival. As a result, I must discount Gua Du Large. He was stated to have benefitted from the better ground when he won at 25/1 last time, so I’m not sure he will act on the ground here.

Bloomfield Burg is another highly regarded type, but he failed to settle last time out and faded at the business end in the Betfair Hurdle. He needs a strong pace to run at and the Betfair did not deliver that, but you can rest assured the County Hurdle will. He ran well here in December, just failing to give 25lbs to Lively Citizen on his Handicap debut, when running around a little on the final run-in.

Finally, we have to consider Tempo Chapter Two who is yet another Mullins runner that is making his Handicap debut. He has some patchy form, but based on his SPs, he’s reasonably well regarded by connections. However, he has a similar profile to Farout and is passed over as a result.

Conclusion

There has only been one winning Favourite in the past 15 renewals that was Saint Roi. He was trained for this race by Willie Mullins and State Man has an identical profile to that one. However, he did try to repeat the feat with Ganapathi last year, but was not successful.

The vibes and words from the yard this year are far more positive, with the likes of Ruby Walsh saying he would just win whichever option he took up. And while I dislike putting up a “talking horse”, on this occasion I will, as the manner and form of his victory last time was hugely impressive. So, at 5/1 with Bet365 who go seven places, State Man is the main selection.

Now, in keeping with the rest of the week I will put up an English and Irish EW saver. For this race I am going with two who were fancied to win their races here earlier in the season, but disappointed, but should do better this time.

The Irish saver is Jesse Evans who is generally in the 20s with a number of firms like Bet365 and Betfred, who both go seven places. Broomfield Burg is the English EW saver, at time of writing, he is also available at 20s with Bet365 and Betfair.

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