RACING fan Pete Hamill (@RiskForRewards) takes a look at the market leaders on Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday.
Cheltenham Festival Tips: Day 1 Bankers or Blowouts
Welcome to the Cheltenham Festival, the greatest sporting event on this planet.
Last year there were 18 horses 3/1 or shorter – 16 of them lost. There were 6 odds-on favourites, of which only one of those obliged.
A man responsible for a large percentage of these is leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins. Of his short priced favourites between 2006 – 2020 he has had 63 runners of which 48% have won, 78% placed.
Almost 50% of his runners when short priced win at the Festival. That is some strike rate and exception to the rule that short price favourites often get turned over.
Of the 9 current favourites priced below 2/1 he is responsible for five of those. Over the next four days I will look to exploit those favourites.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle | Tuesday 16th March 2021, 13:20 | ITV1
Appreciate It (6/5 Bet365)
Statistics: A negative towards the favourite would be that seven year-olds are 1/31 and he is the only seven year old. There have been 5/7 winners who had achieved a rating of 153 prior to the festival (Appreciate it, Soaring Glory, Ballyadam, Metier qualify).
With 4/8 winning a grade 1 last time out (Appreciate it, Soaring Glory, Metier qualify). In the last 8 years 7/8 winners sent off single figure odds, so it pays to look for the more fancied runners.
Festival form: Sent off the 15/8-market leader for the Cheltenham Champion Bumper last year. Travelling well he took up the lead at the top of the hill, looking the most likely winner before being picked up by stable mate Ferny Hollow.
This season: Appreciate It has run the fastest time on the clock this season and beaten the best of the Irish horses this season. In taking his first grade one in the Champion Novice Hurdle he ran the last circuit 8 seconds quicker than leading Triumph fancy French Aseel, (who won by 22 lengths).
The closest horse on this occasion was Erascible (9 lengths behind) who re-opposes here. His most recent start was in winning the Chanelle Pharma Grade 1 of which Ballyadam had the race perfectly set up for him but could not get any closer than the 3 ¼ lengths finishing distance. In third that day was Blue Lord (6 lengths behind) and Erascible who finished 9 lengths behind again.
Dangers: Of the two main English contenders Soaring Glory won the Betfair Hurdle off a mark of 146 and has since been put up to 153. This does still leave him with 9lb to find with the favourite and then the extra required to improve past in what is a short two week turn around.
Betfair hurdle winners are 0-7 in the race so a place may be more likely. It is slightly conerning connections have reached for cheek pieces after such an impressive performance last time out.
Metier is an ex flat bred horse (2 winners since 2008) and last time out winner of the Tolworth hurdle (two winners have followed up this century) but the form of that race is not working out well with the third, firth and sixth all beating easily. Of the horses he has beaten this year, none have won since.
The other concerns would be that the yard has been very quiet with only 5 winners from 57 runners since the turn of the year and with only 1 winner from 35 Cheltenham festival runners. The horse remains unexposed therefore you cannot measure his potential and he does look a likely danger on a track that will suit.
The likely front-runner is For Pleasure who will set an end-to-end gallop and whilst he has plenty to find they wouldn’t want to allow him a soft lead.
It often pays to take on the favourite with only two winners since 2009 being victorious in the Festival opener. The only weakness I can find is unproven on good ground and his age of seven.
The problem with this event is an exceptionally small field remains (smallest ever field) of only eight runners (usually fifteen or more). Appreciate It has beaten the three main Irish contenders comprehensively and whilst the main two English contenders are unexposed they both have concerns and neither have Cheltenham form.
So the main dangers may come from the Irish contingent in particular Ballyadam on this speed-favouring track. Whilst I would not call a horse a banker with unexposed contenders he is a fair price and the rest need to improve to meet his level. So in such a small field he has more positives than negatives and he remains the selection.
Arkle Chase | Tuesday 16th March 2021, 13:55 | ITV1
Shishkin (8/15 Unibet)
Statistics: Shishkin has won a grade 1 or 2 over fences (15/21 winners), won last time out (16/20) and has contested the Cheltenham Festival before (4/12). He is 7/7 since his fall on hurdling debut, having most recently picked up two grade twos. He ticks all the boxes for a likely winner of this event.
Festival form: His Group 1 Supreme Novice Hurdle win is the best piece of form over hurdles. Everything went wrong for him on this occasion when nearly brought down but he still got up to beat this season’s group one winner Abracadabra’s.
This season: This year he has taken his talents to another level when presented with a fence. His last two performances did not look anything spectacular on form but that is due to the esteem and expectancy he is held in when beating150 rated horses.
His recent form at Kempton was franked with 154 rated Tamaroc Du Mathan winning a grade two cosily next time out. The most important aspect when you have little form to go on is a look at the clock of which in this case all the sectionals back up the visuals.
This run when compared to the Group 1 Desert Orchid (same distance) displayed that he matched speed with Altior and Nube Negra coming to three out before putting 15 lengths between the pair without coming off the bridle. His talent could be exceptional.
Dangers: Last seen at the Dublin Racing Festival were two of his main rivals. Franco De Port faired the best on that occasion when finishing second, Captain Guinness looked likely to finish ahead of that rival but took a fall when travelling well two out.
Allmankind is the closest danger according to the betting entering the race with an unblemished record of 3/3 winning the Grade 2 Kingmaker by 14 lengths last time out. He is a bold aggressive front runner who when fluent is swift away from his fences but he does have a tendency to throw in a wobbly jump or two of which at a track such as this he could be duly punished.
I see Allmankind aiming to make all in this race. Shishkin will sit prominently, hopefully ensuring daylight and clear sight at each fence. The strong pace will allow Shishkin to find his feet and grow in to the race.
Allmankind should set the race up for Shishkin to win again. His jumping has been spectacular so far and the horse looks potentially exceptional. Whilst this will be his biggest test yet I will be disappointed if this is not a stepping-stone to bigger things.
Mares Hurdle | Tuesday 16th March 2021, 15:40 | ITV1
Concertista (6/5 William Hill)
Statistics – Willie Mullins is responsible for 9 of 13 winners of the race (6 were Quevega). 11/13 trained Ireland. 11 of 13 won or placed against geldings. 12 of 13 won over 2m4 or further. Only 2 of 13 were sent off bigger than 6/1 (Concertista 5/4 and Roksana 7/2 qualifier).
Festival form: The initial factor to consider is that only two winners in the last 13 years were sent off 6/1 or bigger this leaves two contenders this year. Concertista filled the runner up spot in the Mares novice hurdle in 2019 before coming back 12 months later to win last years’ edition by 12 lengths powering up the hill from Dolcita. Her festival form reads 2-1.
This season: She has continued her trajectory when picking up a grade 2 before going on to win a grade 3 when beating Minella melody without coming off the bridle. She is a cliché Willie Mullins mare in the way she travels strongly, oozes class, but also finds when asked the question.
She has a great constitution with push button acceleration and seems to be the complete package. She is normally a spring filly and slow to come in hand but having already notched up two wins so far this year she may just be improving again. So far she has looked potentially brilliant, improving with every start and handling all ground but this is another level again.
Dangers: Her main market rival is Roksana who is rated 3lb above her (165) and has the better form. She won this event in 2019 when Benie Des Dieux fell but was only fourth last year. Her third behind Paisley Park and Thyme Hill over three miles looks to be the standout form on offer this year.
Dan Skelton has given her as his best bet of the week, which is significant when he has other prominently positioned runners in the betting. It does look potentially that the improvement may have come due to the step (3 miles all season) up in trip and others could be quicker over the shorter trip (2m4f) on the quicker ground.
Dame De Compagnie is interesting in that she returns here having won the Coral Cup of 148 last year of which she won like it was a piece of work. Her form at Cheltenham reads 51511 therefore clearly has to be respected. She does have to recover from a fall over fences last time out, but would be unwise to underestimate Henderson having her on point.
Black Tears has finished behind both Concertista and Dame De Compagnie so would need to improve but has placed at the festival previously. Indefatigable is a Cheltenham handicap winner but has shown nothing of that level this season. Whilst it is not insurmountable she would need another large step of improvement to feature with the market leaders.
With a record such as Willie Mullins he knows exactly what it takes to win this race and it is hard to argue with Concertistas position as the market leader. In Roksana she has a very worthy challenger and will offer the each way value to many in the race.
Concertista does look to have all of the attributes needed for this test and whilst Roksana will travel with her the favourites turn of foot over the faster conditions and shorter trip should be enough to see her off. Her price may look short but she is a warranted market leader and remains the selection.