Liverpool’s Cheltenham Preview Evening: Notes

Eyes Turn To Cheltenham…

Well my eyes have now well and truly turned to the Festival. I am not one for all the  hype and talk that goes on for months and months.

You know what I mean…Cue Card winning the King George and the first thing many start to talk about (10 seconds after he has crossed the line)  is his chance in the Gold Cup. Just sod off. I have no problem with taking that longer term, ‘Festival’ view but not at the expense of enjoying the moment, and enjoying a horse winning a big race. Anyway, that is one of a few personal gripes 🙂

I don’t really bet Ante Post and when it comes to the handicaps I won’t be finalising bets until the day/two days before. I have gathered my stats and am just about ready to get stuck in.

In this post I reflect on a Cheltenham Preview evening I went to near Aintree on Monday evening. It was good fun and there were a few things I picked up and points raised that got me thinking. What follows is not a ‘Douvan is a good thing’ post, X will definitely win X etc.

Hopefully you find something of interest below.

(I should add the comments from all those on the panel are not verbatim quotes)

Cheltenham Preview Evening…

There was a good crowd for this event with the panel made up of trainers Ben Pauling and Charlie Longsdon, John Parrott (entertaining chap), Andy Holding (speed guru, tipster on Oddschecker) and John Morris (author Jumping Prospects).

Both of the trainers spoke very well and Ben Pauling in particular didn’t hold back on a few issues. He did make a sweeping statement about Irish racing and how boring it now was – with the dominance of Mullins and Elliot (+by extension Gigginstown) arguably weakening competition. He suspects that a few hot pots or well touted horses will get found out with the depth of competition at Cheltenham. That was a general aside.

Likewise, Charlie Longsdon had a general feeling that Henry De Bromhead was going to have a very good Festival and that all of his are worth a second look!

I am not going to go through each day and every race as to what they fancy, but will try and select a few points/horses of interest. 

I managed to get in a couple of questions on the back of some general points made.

Ben Pauling said Vaniteux could ‘improve for Cheltenham’ – which led me to ask what he meant by that, how can you tell and what should we be looking for.

That is in the context of course that a chunk of races at the Festival are won by horses who have never raced at the track before. Well, 42 of the 135 winners at the last 5 Festivals had never won ran at the track – 31%. That is a large enough chunk to ignore if you are adamant that ‘horses for courses’ is imperative here! It can be important, and is clearly a positive – rather than no track experience being a negative, if that makes sense. For handicaps that figure is 18/55.

Coincidently 88 of those 135 had never won at the track either.

Anyway both Ben and Charlie said that you don’t really know until a horse runs at the track, given its very unique nature – turning, up and down, up-hill fences, down-hill fences, the stiff finish, the pace they go at etc. They said important traits to look for are  balance and the ability to travel with ease. You want  a big strong galloper. I suppose spotting those things takes experience – and there is always an exception to the rule – I would have to watch the videos again but Don Poli isnt the sweetest of travelers and he hasn’t done too badly at the Festival. Charlie said you can tell within 3f whether your horse is liking the place or not.

The New Course…all about racing prominently?…

Andy Holding then touched on the New Course which prompted me to ask him to elaborate – in essence it is his view that over the New Course (Thursday/Friday)  you want front runners and prominent racers – due to the nature of the track it is very hard to come from behind – and he is always looking out for those types. They are two very different courses and that isn’t something I have ever contemplated/thought about  in too much depth before – I have now. I generally like to be with horses in the front third anyway – but I think it would certainly be foolish to go into any race over the New Course without at least one prominent racer on your side.

Charlie made the point that on the Old Course they hurtle down hill before facing the stiff uphill finish and many near the front, who may have been going too quick, can fold at this point and be picked off by closers. (I need to watch some videos of last year again!)

So, they were two general points of interest which entered my notebook.


Ben Pauling…unsurprisingly has a soft spot for Barters Hill – but he was very bullish and thinks it will take a very good horse to beat him. He couldn’t be happier. And we know he is a trier, very very tough. He also really rates his Local Show in the National Hunt Chase. Charlie said to just pay close attention to who the crack Irish jockeys ride!

Ben’s ‘only bet’ of the meeting is on BattleFord for Willie Mullins in the Champion Bumper. Ben bought and trains the horse that used to work up alongside this Mullins horse. Mullins bought this one and Ben got BALLY GILBERT – he really likes this horse, and told us all to look out for him when he runs in a bumper – I suspect the word will be out and he will be short – but I get the impression he is expected to hose up. It is Ben’s appreciation for what he has on his hands that makes him appreciate the Mullins horse.

Obviously Ben is close to the Henderson yard, and uses Nico a lot so has info that way. He really likes Josses Hill for the Ryanair. He thinks the key to this horse is now riding him aggressively out in front. He actually thinks he is a good jumper – especially over the last 2 or 3 fences – when he is really asked for an effort. He thinks he needs to be ridden into his fences as if everyone is the last – its these tactics that could make the difference and he thinks he could go well. Charlie thinks the step up in trip has made this horse.

Andy Holding…made numerous informative comments about all sorts. When discussing some of the Novice Chasers, and Bristol De Mai – he made the point that if it is decent ground, some of these could be taken off their feet, including this one – given the mud/pace they have been going all winter. It could all happen that bit quicker here which may well have an impact. That was a general point to bear in mind – jumping, and jumping at a pace that many horses at the Festival may not have been going this season so far. He highlighted Our Father to keep an eye on who is now with Gordon Elliot and usually runs well fresh. Plotted up for something (as most of them are!!)

Charlie Longsdon- runs Our Kaempfer in the Pertemps and says he is the best handicapped horse he has ever taken to the Festival. He thinks he will do himself proud. Charlie made the general point that in all of these handicaps you need to have plenty up your sleeve from the handicapper. He also thinks Alan King has a very good hand in The Triumph. He also has a ‘feeling’ that Gordon Elliot could have a very good Friday, with a few plots going on, as well as The Don etc. He also has Ballydine entered in the Albert Bartlett but very much said he is a horse for next year, and hasn’t decided 100% whether to run him yet – wants to look after him.

Onto the County Hurdle and Charlie put up Desoto County for the shrewd Mr Elliot, as a likely one. ‘We’/ I tipped him LTO when he got trapped too far back – was ridden too far back – and finished strongly. He has some decent form on Good also, as well as a slog, and although on the face of it the ‘Capper may not have taken much of a chance (off OR 137 here, was 126 before that 4th LTO) in the context that he could be plot job, that run/ride last time makes total sense!!! 🙂  We shall see how he comes up on the trends, and his odds.

Charlie made a general point about the Martin Pipe hurdle and how it has produced some brilliant graded hurdlers in time – so could be very much about which one is a G1 animal of the future- good luck for working that out! It is a classy race for a handicap.

Back to Ben P and he was also bullish about his two in the County. He is very much a trainer who uses his ‘eye’, I think it was him who said he doesn’t care for speed ratings and times etc. He thinks his A Hair Breath has the potential to be a OR150 horse, which makes his current rating of OR137 look enticing. Time will tell how shrewd a judge he will be, but the way he spoke all evening gives me the impression that he could be a future Champion Trainer – esp when the two big guns go, and he may well get most of Hendos horses. (that is some time away mind) But early on he has shown how adept he is with all types of horse, in all NH race types. Some talent.

There were some other generalisations from them all, including Mr Parrott (who is rather entertaining with his scouse Evertonian humour)who actually talked more sense than I expected. He clearly knows a thing or two. Although a short enough price he was raving about Diego Du Charmil for the Fred Winter – he would qualify on my Nicholls micro system I think – he is without doubt a talking horse and is his price due to his homework. I agreed when John mused that they have probably just been keeping him for this and he could have any amount in hand. Qualando is also a talking horse I suppose and seems to be a well found ‘plot job’ for the Martin Pipe.

There was talk about the going and both trainers are not too far from the course…they say it has been drying out around them and there have only been wintery showers. The ground should start off decent – the question is whether there is any in-meeting deluges – the consensus was that if this was during racing it would get in very quickly and go from good to soft or worse in no time.

Before I finish with the most heart-warming sentiments of the evening Andy Holding’s NAP of the meeting is in the Coral Cup!! Yes, you read that right. The horse is Arbre De Vie for Willie Mullins. Having had a very brief look I think he matches up against my ‘winning profile’. I would be concerned he ran over fences LTO- indeed at last 5 festivals those that ran in a chase before a handicap hurdle run (exc the Fred Winter) are 0/44, 4 places – Mullins also now 0/15, 2 places in race – stats wise they are the only ‘chinks’ I think. Anyway.

Finally…they were all pretty keen on Cue Card, which was delightful to hear! He would bring the house down and it could get rather emotional. A few of them had seen him work at Kempton and said he was bouncing around as if he were a 4yo. Ben said he looked magnificent. By this time in the season some horses can look like they have had enough and are ready for their holiday – not him – he looked as strong as ever. This race, like every Gold Cup I suppose, will be won and lost in the final two furlongs – it will break a few – and for many it is a bit of an unknown, given the pace they may go and the class of those lining up. Of course the ground is an unknown also. Plenty to ponder.

I hope you find some of that useful/interesting.



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11 Responses

  1. welldone josh, i was there myself, you got ben spot on you missed charlie saying he really fancys his horse our kaempfer? hes kept him back remember to keep his mark..i thought charlie was very sweet on him,..and other thing to note i won on the raffle this year for once?lol..its the 4th year ive helped john organise this night and its getting better each year..also just a plug for the aintree preview..warren greatrex and harry whittington with andy holding..and gerry from corrbets on course bookies last year was very good all details info@jumpingprospects .com

    1. Thanks Tony…ah I thought I hinted at that – maybe I should have used stronger words – have said he thinks he is the best handicapped one he has taken there – agree he came across as sweet on him – certainly expecting him to run well. Ah snap, I also was lucky enough to win a prize – beginners luck that, first time I have been but will be a regular from now on.
      Yep remind me nearer time and I will plug preview on here – I go to the one Paul Ferguson organises at the Thomas Rigby pub also. Plug away, more than welcome!

      1. Its good to know that they think Our Kaempfer is well handicapped since was thinking the same. Form of each of his last two races has been franked several times over so have been waiting for him to run agian all winter. I presume they didnt give any reason why he hasnt ran since November other than protecting his mark? Saying that If In Doubt looks like a good thing so will be interesting to see which of the two fits the trends better.

        1. Not sure why hasn’t run, ground mainly…certainly Charlie didn’t indicate that it was due to any issues.

    1. Nope I don’t think he got a mention. But I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into that!

  2. Just listening to the Racing Post podcast and obviously up to you whether you believe him but Patrick Mullins was fairly dismissive of Arbre de Vie’s chances pointing out that his last run over fences wasn’t ideal preparation and mentioned your stats about horses with a chase prep run not doing well in the race (obviously has been reading the blog) and mentioned Blazer as their best chance who should improve for the step up in trip but didn’t sound confident when asked about their overall chances in the race.

    1. Yep just listening to that now…not sure if I have mentioned it before…but I remember Mullins saying in an interview that he uses big trends/stats to map out plans for his horses – to work out the profile needed – no surprise that young Patrick is clued up on such things! Maybe he has been reading haha. (i doubt it!) Yep – that horse hasnt been campaigned for this race, clearly – and on that basis alone not sure if I could have him. Same with ‘Jack Adam’ in the big one – after his fall LTO he had 10-12 quiet days with all his stitches – and not sure if I like an interrupted prep for such a big race. On back of Ben’s comments I may have some fun money on their Bumper horse mentioned above.

  3. Excellent and informative write up Josh – well done – sounds like you were lucky to have 2 sensible and pragmatic trainers and some sound pundits.

    The New Course / Old Course debate is something a wily old sage told me about years ago, he words were simple, treat them as two totally different Courses and never believe Cheltenham Course form until you have checked whether it is on the Old or the New Course and he said everything you have written about the Old Course suiting hold up horses and the New Course front runners…it is a fact that over the first 2 days hold up horses fly up the hill, uninformed punters get drawn in and then wonder why front runners suddenly do better on Thursday and Friday… a wise ace of knowledge to have up your sleeve!

    The wild old fox also taught me the ability to read Autumn and Spring Cheltenham form in context too, he believed it is very hard to win there before and after Christmas, his logic was not only keeping a horse on the go for so long but something rather more simple…..he told me and I have no way of proving or disproving but it is an interesting angle…that the turf there before Christmas is longer and denser than any other Course in the UK, they deliberately do that in case they get little grass growth in the early spring, conversely, at the Festival it is cropped much shorter….he believed that made a huge difference to the Course and the split between Autumn and Spring winners…

    1. Thanks Ian, glad you enjoyed the read. Yep it was a fun night, informative, entertaining etc.
      Yep I had never given enough consideration to the two courses but am now. Quite exciting with the pace maps I have etc to see how that all plays out. Will watch some videos over next few days of last year over both courses etc. That second ‘theory’ sounds logical enough to me.

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