Cheltenham Day 1: National Hunt Chase Preview

The chaps at Racing Groups (@racinggroups #racehour , for those of you on Twitter) asked me if I would preview the National Hunt Chase and Coral Cup for them. You can read the first of these previews, and my two bets, below. I won’t be writing as much for other previews as it simply wont be practical and I would rather spend the time making sure I bet on the right horses 🙂 


Day 1

4.40 Cheltenham

Toby Balding National Hunt Chase – 4m


Sego Success 6/1* – 1 point win (bet365 NRNB)

Perfect Gentleman 20/1 – ½ point Each Way (SkyBet NRNB)

*prices as of 04/03/15


This gruelling 4 miler is run in memory of the late Toby Balding who trained 2 winners of this race and a further 9 Cheltenham Festival winners. Amongst many other highlights he will perhaps be best remembered for being one of the elite few to train the winner of the Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Grand National.

This race has had a few modifications over time, the first of which was in 2002. This will also be the 6th running since penalties were abolished and in the subsequent 5 renewals to date, 4 favourites have won. This race now tends to go to the higher rated, classier animals.

Anyone that has read my ‘Big Race Previews’ ( ) in recent times will know that I do like using trends when it comes to big races and even more so at the Festival. Year after year horses with similar profiles win and do well. Year after year certain trainers do well with the same type of horse. For me they are an essential tool in helping to produce a shortlist of most likely winners.

For this race in particular I’m not sure if it’s worth spending hours digging into the form anyway. 14 of the last 17 winners had not run beyond 26f in their career to date. Clearly many of those competing and most of the winners benefit from a huge step up in distance. Given many of these horses haven’t had many chase runs and are naturally improving anyway, judging them strictly on what they have achieved to date is a bit pointless in my opinion. Comparing graded novice chase form to those that may have competed in big handicaps is also challenging.

Anyway, onto the rationale..

There are a couple of major trends that I don’t think I can ignore.

  • 10 of the last 13 winners (since first set of changes to race conditions) had finished 1st or 2nd last time out.
  • 5 and 6 year olds are 1/67 since 1989. It is best to focus on those 7 or older.

Based on those stats alone this would leave a shortlist of: Ballycula, Doing Fine, Heathfield, Perfect Gentleman and Sego Success. 

Ballycula has yet to win a chase. I couldn’t back him based on that alone. His form isn’t much to shout about either but this step up could bring about huge improvement, or he may just not be good enough. If he wins his first chase here I will be the first to applaud. Doing Fine doesn’t look as progressive over fences as some of these and has been a tad disappointing in his last 3 runs. He may need a marathon chase and joins the long list of horses where you are guessing as to their stamina limitations. He finished second behind Cogry last time and although he doesn’t tick enough boxes for me a decent run wouldn’t be a total surprise. Heathfield doesn’t look that great (famous last words) and is 1/8 over fences. Others are open to more improvement and the bare face of his form doesn’t look good enough. He won a weak Class 4 handicap chase at Uttoxeter 3 starts ago and will need to step up on what he has done so far. Again the trip may bring about that improvement but he is rated 103 against some 140+ types.

That leaves Perfect Gentleman and Sego Success.


At this point I should mention trainers. Those with notable poor records in this race are Paul Nicholls (who in general has a shocking record with his chasers since 2010) 0/15 and since 2007 Donald McCain hasn’t had a place from his 6 runners.

Alan King has had 2 winners from 8 runners in recent years, with one further place. King likes to use Warwick as a stepping stone for this race. Midnight Prayer won a Novice Chase there last year before winning at Cheltenham the following month. Sego Success won a listed novice chase there in January… ‘before winning at Cheltenham in 2015….’

Willie Mullins has sent 6 runners here since 2007 with 1 winner and 1 place to show for his efforts. He looks to have a decent hand again this year.

What about the horses?

 Well both Sego Success and Perfect Gentleman are on the trends shortlist and they are trained by two gentlemen who know what it takes to win this race. Sam Waley-Cohen has been booked for the former already which is a sign of intent. SS is progressing well over fences having won his last two races and King is clearly confident that he will stay. We will  have to trust him on that one, but he appears to know what he is doing. Being by King Theatre (a sire with a decent record at the Festival) he may even appreciate the better ground. He looks sure to run his race and 6s looks fair. Given this has no doubt been the target and he will no doubt improve for the 4 miles, reading anything into what he has beaten in his last two runs is a waste of my time. For those interested he beat If In Doubt on his second chase start. He then went on to demolish a decent field of handicappers in the SkyBet Chase at Doncaster. I am not sure if that has any relevance on this race however. 

Perfect Gentelman may not line up but we have the insurance of NRNB. 20/1 looked rather tempting given he ticks the two main trends of recent years, is trained by Mullins and is rated 144. He is a lightly raced 10 year old (they have a modest 1/15 record in this for last 17 years, but 20s allows me to overlook that to an extent) who has had only 4 chase starts and 15 starts in total. When he won in October it was mentioned that this would be the likely target and he should be primed to run his best race in his career to date. Whether that is good enough we shall see. He has been competing in G1,2 and 3 Novice Chases and is clearly expected to stay the trip and enjoy the ground.

All in all I think these are two solid bets in a race that may well cut up further. The horses will be ready to perform and if their stamina holds out we should at least get some entertainment for our money.

The Opposition

Well I won’t go through all of the other runners but it’s worth noting that 3 of the last 4 winners contested a Grade 1 chase earlier in the season. ‘Qualifiers’ this year include the selection Perfect Gentleman, Don Poli, Very Wood and Cause of Causes. Cause of Causes has yet to win a chase from 10 goes.  I’m not quite sure how he can be backed here, despite coming second in the Kim Muir last season. That would leave the two market principles.

You may find it easy to ignore the record of younger horses in this race but I cannot.  Given it is such a stamina test it’s no surprise that those horses still strengthening tend to struggle. However, these two, and more so Don Poli, look like classy prospects and it may be their class that wins the day. Don Poli has done nothing wrong and has experience of the Festival having won here last year. His chase form so far has been on Heavy and it will be interesting if he improves for the better ground or not. However, he is generally a 3/1 shot which is a bit skinny for me. He also falls down on another major stat…no winner in the last 12 runnings (since the race conditions alterations) has contested less than three chase starts. He has only contested 2. At the odds I want to be taking him on despite the decent recent record of favourites. Very Wood is second in the market at 9/2 in places and is also improving. His chasing profile is a bit patchy but he did put it all together last time out. We know that the Festival atmosphere holds no problems for him and, bar the concern over his age, there isnt much I can say to put you off. When he won here last year he looked like a galloper and he promises to be thereabouts.

I will mention Theatre Queen mainly because I backed her last time out. Maybe it was an error as she planted herself again at the start before consenting to run. She did well to finish where she did. If getting off on terms she has form at the track and promises to stay. She may well simply not be good enough to even place but at 50/1 I will watch with interest to see how she goes. I don’t think I could trust her again however.

There may of course be other dangers in this race with this trip likely to bring about significant improvement in a few unheralded beats. Using trends, trainer records and price I am happy with the two selections. Recent history suggests you want a horse rated 140+ on your side and it will be interesting if that holds up again, as will the performance of the 6 year olds.


Good Luck with whatever you fancy.


(you can find more of my ramblings over at


Special thanks goes to HorseRaceBase, Wetherby’s (Paul Jones) ‘Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide 2015’ and Irish Big Race Trends (a few decent free guides) which are the sources of all the info above.


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Do join in the conversation below, we're a friendly bunch.. all questions welcome, and do share your selections or thoughts

7 Responses

  1. Hi Josh,

    I am so impressed with the amount of work you put into researching the detail before making your final choice
    I wish you every success in what looks to be an exciting week for all concerned..
    The Gloucester weather looks good for the week
    Enjoy and have a good Cheltenham Festival.

    1. Cheers Tony…well it may all come to nothing but it wont be for the want of trying and it is how I like to approach things so we shall see!

  2. Hi Josh ive had it on very very good info that Theatre Queen has improved 20lbs from that race and is in extremely good order. The starter has agreed to let the horse be on the move as they come in as long as its behind the others. NRNB 50/1 Laddies worth a go i say as the race has yet to cut up properly.

    1. Hi Charlie…yes that wouldnt surprise me given that last run was effectively only her second run of the season. If she gets away she will stay i think, and she likes the course. 12.5/1 for plugging on into 3rd would be nice. Maybe I will have to have a small ‘cheltenham tickle’ at those odds!

    1. Cheers John, yes another reader emailed me about dam sires and that is something worth looking at. Thanks for article,will check it out. Breeding for NH nothing I have really ever looked at in too much depth as yet.

  3. The Dam breeding angle netted me a 25/1 winner last week on an unraced horse,Welsh Gem was its name so its worth a thought or two.

    Good luck

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