Friday 7 March
The forecast is for dry weather in the Cheltenham area over the next few days, with a minimal amount of rain on Monday, so although the ground is currently soft I would expect it to be drying out by the start of the meeting.
The key point is that we are not going to face an extreme of going, so I don’t expect any excuses on that account. Having said that, it can get ‘gluey’ when it dries out so that may be a factor.
I was on the panel of two preview nights this week – one for the North West Racing Club at Haydock and the other on Thursday at Cartmel. I will pass on a few thoughts from the panel when I write the Online Supplements next week.
It was an honour to sit with Arthur Moore at Cartmel last night. He has been associated with many great horses, including Cheltenham winners, and I know he is very keen on Foxrock in the NH Chase.
I am beginning to think Hinterland is going to run well in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He does not have the form in the book, but he strikes me as one of those horses that will run his best race in the best company.
With the ground as it is I get the feeling Mouse Morris may run First Lieutenant in the Gold Cup rather than the Ryanair Chase. He feels that the longer trip will suit the horse.
You can hear my early thoughts for Cheltenham by calling me on 0906 150 1555 on Sunday evening (after 6.00pm). This line will then be updated through the week each evening by 8.00pm looking forward to the next day, and then again in the morning by 11.00am when, as always, any selections will be given in the first minute of the message.
Have a great weekend and bye for now.
Thursday 6 March
The news came through late yesterday that My Tent Or Yours is now sound again following the scare on Monday.
Nicky Henderson says the horse did “two good canters” this morning, and the horse “moved beautifully”. This has been reflected in the markets, with the horse now trading at 6 on Betfair.
Other news, and Arvika Ligeonniere has been relatively weak on Betfair for the Champion Chase. He has firmed back up now around 10 but drifted to 28 to lay at one point last night.
I am pleased to report that Rebecca and the team managed to get all the Bulletin Book orders in the mail by mid-afternoon. Many of you will have already received your copy as a number of them went into the mail on Wednesday.
Bye for now
Wednesday 5 March
Rebecca and I were delighted to see the Bulletin Books arrive this afternoon – a day earlier than expected.
She has the team working hard to get as many out in the post as possible, and those that don’t go today will definitely be on their way tomorrow. If Royal Mail do their job then everyone should have them by the weekend.
The news came through today that Philip Fenton has been cleared by the BHA to run his horses at Cheltenham, which includes Dunguib and notably leading Gold Cup contender Last Instalment. This will be a great relief to the trainer, as he does not get many chances to compete at the top level.
JP McManus’ Captain Cee Bee has been supplemented for the Champion Hurdle to ensure a decent pace for My Tent Or Yours and Jezki, who run in the same colours. It seems to me that the other horses in the race won’t mind a strong pace either, and My Tent Or Yours races so keenly that I’m not sure it will make any different to him anyway.
Tom George has finally opted for the Champion Chase with Module. News came through that Hinterland will also take his chance there. I could see him running very well, for reasons I will discuss next week.
I am just leaving for Haydock shortly to attend a preview evening. I will then be at Cartmel tomorrow for the same.
Tuesday 4 March
As I'm sure you are aware My Tent Or Yours has sustained a small puncture wound to the sole of his near-fore foot but trainer Nicky Henderson is still "seriously hopeful" that everything will be all right.
Obviously it is far from ideal for any horse to have a setback so close to a championship race but the players in the world of the exchanges seem to be fairly relaxed about it all, with the horse now trading as I write at 7.2, having drifted to double-figure odds at one point earlier this morning. It seems extraordinary that we now seem to rely more on how a horse moves on Betfair than statements from yards for the true state of affairs, but it is impossible to get 100% security in any situation and it is obviously difficult for certain people to resist the temptation to benefit in some way.
Following the news about Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card, I hope we have seen the last of the big-name setbacks for this year.
The Bulletin Book is now available for Package clients to view - all 40,000 words of it. I am holding back on my Star Bets until tomorrow. I did not want to rush into making a final decision until I had more information to hand, notably about the going.
Bye for now
Sunday 2 March
The Bulletin Book has weighed in at 40.000 words - more than any Dark Horses Annual I have ever written, but thoroughly merited given the absorbing nature of this year's meeting.
The news came through this evening that Annie Power will tackle Big Buck's in the World Hurdle rather than take up the option to run in the Champion Hurdle. This was always the more likely of the two races, with the decision possibly swayed by the availability of Ruby Walsh for the mount. On a less positive note there was a slight setback for Willie Mullins when RSA Chase fancy Ballycasey fell while schooling after racing at Leopardstown. It was a very soft fall, and jockey and rider were reunited soon afterwards.
I thought Our Conor looked very well. It seems to me that he is peaking at just the right time and is the one horse in the race that has been prepared solely for the Champion Hurdle. His form is within a few pounds of Hurricane Fly ,even as things stand, and I am confident of more improvement to come.
Bye for now
Wednesday 26 February
The weights for the Cheltenham handicaps were published today, together with the entries for the bumper. This is for me always the most exciting time of the Cheltenham build-up, as I try and unearth the likely 'plot' horses. In fact I have been quite fortunate in doing so over the years, with certain trainers better at it than others.
I have already spotted a couple of likely candidates and I intend to write about them over the next day or two.
The Bulletin Book will be with the printer on Monday for despatch a week today.
Bye for now.
Sunday 23 February
Work is going very well on the Bulletin Book. In fact I am ahead of schedule, having written the essays for the major races. The handicaps will be tricky, though, with over 1,000 entries to plough through.
As before I will be selecting a handful of likely candidates for those races rather than trudge through the chance of every horse entered.
I see that Sprinter Sacre has been a little bit weak on Betfair for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Nicky Henderson has wisely covered every option by saying a decision won't be made about the horse's participation until nearer the time. A few of the yard's horses have been out of sorts recently - a situation exacerbated by the awful weather - and I reckon when Nicky has his open day in the autumn he will admit that not much went right for the yard this season.
The highlight of today's action was the success of Kayf Moss in the National Spirit Hurdle.
I backed this six-year-old at 100/1 to win a maiden hurdle at Chepstow in December but it was next time, in a handicap and wearing blinkers for the first time, that we saw the best of him. Successful there off 96, he then followed up off 110 and came into this race rated 130. That was still 35lb adrift of the odds-on favourite Saphir Du Rheu, and 20lb short of Meister Eckhard, but under a gutsy ride from the trainer's son he held on to win by a fast-diminishing margin. I expect him to be raised to a mark in the high 140s after that, suggesting he really was something to bet on at Leicester off 96.
I will update you with Cheltenham thoughts in the next fortnight leading up to the meeting.
Please refer to the shop for details of my services for this great occasion.
Bye for now
Friday 21 February
I would not be charging in to back Sprinter Sacre around the even-money mark for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the moment.
The Racing Post reports today that Nicky Henderson will only run Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham if he is "back to his very best", adding that he will either run in the Champion Chase or be put away until next season. What makes this statement interesting is that they are not contemplating the horse running at another meeting after Cheltenham - Aintree, for example, or Punchestowmn, where he won last year.
Henderson says the horse wears a heart monitor in all his work and he gets the result back from Newmarket within an hour. Given that the horse may have other problems I cannot begin to comprehend why people are so keen to back him at the current price of around 2.16 on Betfair. Apart from anything else, in Sire De Grugy he will be up against one of the best horses he has ever faced and one who quite possibly could be good enough to beat him anyway.
Arvika Ligeonniere looks likely to be at the forefront of affairs and I would expect Al Ferof to switch here from the Ryanair if the favourite were to drop out. Tom Segal is keen on Alderwood while Henderson has the enigmatic Captain Conan waiting in the wings if required.
I am halfway through the Bulletin Book having written the Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Supreme Novices' Hurdle essays - the three most important in my view.
I have also almost completed the Dark Horses Annual for the forthcoming Flat season. There are quite a few dark horses this season - more than normal - including a couple for the Classics. I am not releasing the text for the Dark Horses until I have sight of the Classic entries in early March.
My Bulletin Book is out on Thursday week, packed with at least 25,000 words and covering every race at the meeting.
Have a great weekend and bye for now.
Sunday 16 February
It was good to see Dunguib back to winning ways in the Grade 2 Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle at Navan today.
The favourite Zaidpour has disappointed before and he was having a sulk from an early stage here today, but even so Dunguib was always going well and would probably have won anyway.
Trainer Phlip Fenton says he may be sent to Cheltenham for either the County Hurdle or the Coral Cup. On a line through Zaidpour he ran to a mark 9lb above his rating of 148, so it will be interesting to see what the handicapper does with him.
Willie Mullins is refusing to be drawn on his Cheltenham plans for either Annie Power or Un De Sceaux.
The obvious race for Annie Power would be the World Hurdle, especially as Ruby Walsh could ride her there, but I get the feeling owner Rich Ricci and his wife would prefer to tackle the Champion Hurdle. Un De Sceaux is owned by an enthusiastic crowd and he, too, may take his chance in the Champion.
It is hard to imagine Ruby Walsh deserting dual-Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly, but in his heart of hearts he would probably be seriously worried about riding against his two stable-companions.
I am making good headway with the Bulletin Book and also the Flat edition of the Dark Horses. The deadline for the Bulletin Book is two weeks today.
Bye for now
Sunday 9 February
They don't come much tougher than Guitar Pete, who always looked in control of things when powering away with the Grade 1 juvenile hurdle at Leopardstown this afternoon.
This time a year ago the son of Dark Angel had not even run, his debut coming in a 1m maiden at Navan in May where he finished in mid division. He was then beaten on his next five starts, ending the season a maiden on the Flat, but he has proved a different animal over hurdles, winning four of his six starts.
Today's victory was by far the best of them, with the feature of the race being his slick jumping. He is now down to a single-figure price for the Triumph Hurdle and there will be worse each-way shots. As his trainer Dessie Hughes says he looks sure to appreciate the track.
Ruby Walsh gave Vautour an enterprising ride in the Deloitte Hurdle, making all at a pace to suit him and having enough in hand to hold the late run of The Tullow Tank. To my eyes the second may be able to reverse the form should the two meet again in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
The way trainer Willie Mullins was talking Vautour looks likely to have the Festival opener as his target, which would suggest that the highly-rated Faugheen will be aimed at the Neptune. That has always looked the right race for him.
Last Instalment, impressive in the Hennessy Gold Cup, will not be risked at Cheltenham if the ground rides good or quicker. That seems unlikely, but the owner said afterwards the horse had "legs of glass" so give underfoot is essential. Tidal Bay ran another extraordinary race, dropping himself out a mile from home before coming with a storming late run to snatch second on the line.
Vigil won the closing bumper in the style of a very useful horse. Dermot Weld says he may have another one for Cheltenham.
Wednesday 5 February
There have been some right old touches landed in the last few weeks, notably on the all-weather, but we had one over the jumps at Carlisle today when Indian Voyage won the opening 2m handicap chase.
Maurice Barnes - not somebody one would associate with a hefty market mover - trains the six-year-old, who came into this race a 12-race maiden. He had been running well over two and a half miles, so it was clearly thought the drop back to two miles would suit him. Supported at 7/1 last night, he was down to 3/1 by mid-morning and then further supported on track to 7/4. He won the race confortably by nine lengths, after which the trainer said he had been dropped back in trip on account of the ground. It may pay to keep tabs on him for another race or two, as this was a cosy win.
I am starting work on the Betfair Hurdle Online Preview. I have a couple of horses well suited to heavy ground in mind but my main hope is that the meeting survives. Improved drainage systems have made a big difference to courses these days while commercial considerations have more of a bearing than was once the case. I am sure that Newbury would be odds-on to have faced abandonment a few years ago.
Bye for now
Sunday 26 January
A lot has been written about the coup last Wednesday, allegedly engineered by Barney Curley. Not surprisingly the events of the day have given rise to a wide range of reactions, although from what I can see the ones expressing the most grievance have been from members of the press.
Paul Kealy, betting editor of the Racing Post, wrote on Friday that 'If the coup didn't leave a sour taste in the mouth you're not a proper punter.'
For me the opposite is the case. Any 'proper' punter has to respect one of the most masterful and well-conceived strokes of planning in the history of modern punting.
To get four, possibly five, low-grade horses peaked to strike form after a combined absence of almost 1,900 days was extraordinary. Furthermore, it is my understanding that the trainers almost certainly didn't know that there was going to be a coordinated coup.
In fairness to the Racing Post team, in three of the four cases - the exception was Seven Summits at Catterick - they advised readers to respect any market move for the horse, so they did not dismiss their chances out of hand.
Of the six letters published about the coup in Sunday's Post, five of them support Curley in different ways.
Two of the four horses had never been trained by him anyway, although I understand Des Donovan rents boxes from Barney's yard. John Butler is, I gather, no longer a tenant of Barney's while Seven Summits ran for his current trainer Sophie Leech at Fontwell last June having been with Barney for a period before then.
There is so much more to discuss about Wednesday's events but, for me, the clues were there.
When Barney gave up his licence the one horse I was keen to follow was Eye Of The Tiger - a horse about whom I had written in the past. Having dropped from 112 to 56 while in his care, I found it hard to accept he was going to relinquish all interest in the horse - wherever it went. The fact it was probably still outside his living room window, albeit in the name of Des Donovan, supported that view.
Low Key was actually the selection of the Racing Post and was not hard to find on its best form. Also John Butler had links with Barney as his former tenant.
Seven Summits had shown promise when running three times over hurdles for Barney, having formerly been rated as high as 95 on the Flat. The hardest one to find was Indus Valley, as he had won just once from 26 outings for two trainers in Ireland and then four times for Donovan. Also, he had not run over six furlongs since May, 2010.
I am not suggesting that anyone with a degree of acumen should have snapped up the 14,000/1 accumulated odds the night before, but the clues were there for the discerning punter. They were hard to find, but it was not as if they did not exist.
Once the money came in the morning, then the connection was easier to see.
Perhaps journalists these days expect everything to be served up to them on a plate. That may be as a result of racing's professionals - trainer, jockeys and owners - being more transparent and open with the media than ever before. Trust me, if you have been around as long as I have, that was not always the case. Years ago there was an inner sanctum, and those that paid the bills got to know - sometimes!
Bye for now.
Wednesday 22 January
The two most informative races this weekend are likely to be the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.
All eyes will be on Big Buck's on Saturday, as he bids to extend his unbeaten sequence to 19 and ridden for the first time in public by Sam Twiston-Davies. Big Buck's is not straightforward and after having had so much time off there must be a chance that he will need this race. I will be very surprised if he doesn't hit his 'flat spot' at some stage, which will be when Sammy has to start to display his horsemanship skills. By contract Richard Johnson will be kicking for home on Reve De Sivola, who has 12lb to find with the favourite on official figures. My view is that there will not be as much as that between them, with a real chance that the favourite could be found wanting.
On Sunday Hurricane Fly will be trying to confirm recent form with Jezki and Our Conor in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Hurricane Fly is very hard indeed to beat at this track, but Jezki would have finished closer here over Christmas but for being squeezed for room approaching the last. Our Conor needs to find about six lengths, which is possible as that was his first run back. For me this is a race best watched.
The other horse I will be keeping close tabs on is Faugheen, who may run in the 2m 4f Grade 2 race which follows the Irish Champion. It is an open secret that Faugheen is rated the pick of Willie Mullins's novice hurdlers and if all goes well here then I imagine next stop will be Cheltenham, where his target is uncertain. The Neptune Hurdle, over Sunday's trip, is probably the favoured target at this stage.
Bye for now
Tuesday 14 January
I was very surprised to read such a lengthy statement from Paul Nicholls regarding the decision to engage the services of Sam Twiston-Davies to ride Big Buck's when he returns to action.
Most top-class establishments would have simply announced the new arrangements and let the public mull it over in their own time. The story would soon have been forgotten until the moment arrived, probably in the Cleeve Hurdle on Saturday week, when the new rider gets the leg up on the four-time World Hurdle winner.
I am not sure if there is anything happening behind the scenes, but Paul's statement makes it clear that Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy were favoured over anyone else but neither, for obvious reasons, could or would commit. Ruby will be hanging fire on a decision about Annie Power's Cheltenham target, while 'AP' may be required to ride one of two possible entries for his retainer JP McManus.
What is clear is that Daryl Jacob was not, at the later stage, a consideration. It is, though, intriguing to read the reasons why Paul Nicholls looked elsewhere for a rider. Daryl Jacob's "mindset" was deemed too negative, although his links to Celestial Halo and Salubrious may also have been contributing factors.
Such is the unpredictable nature of this game that it could all come to nothing. Big Buck's needs to prove he is back to his best and if things don't work out in the Cleeve Hurdle he may not even turn up for the Festival.
Sam Twiston-Davies has ridden 12 times for Nicholls this season, winning on five occasions. He is clearly earmarked for the job, although the timing will be critical. Speaking personally I have not seen Daryl Jacob do anything wrong. In fact, for me, he has stepped up a grade and seems to be riding with great confidence.
Bye for now
Friday 10 January
In the last week we have heard that Solwhit and Sir Des Champs will have to miss Cheltenham, thereby once again illustrating the dangers of ante-post betting.
In this respect Paddy Power are to be commended for already offering a 'non-runner, no bet' concession to their clients on four of the Festivals main races - the Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and World Hurdle. To be frank I'm a little surprised other bookmakers have not followed their lead. It is now established practice for bookmakers to offer the concession in the fortnight or so leading up to Cheltenham, but there is now so little life in the ante-post markets that anything to encourage backers to step in must surely be good business.
The Champion Hurdle market is especially unattractive at the moment. I don't see the odds fluctuating much between now and March unless a leading fancy gets injured or a decision is made on the target for Annie Power.
I have never had as few ante-post bets for the Festival as this year. My only bet to date has been on The New One, which I backed when writing my Dark Horses Jumps Guide in the autumn. He was reasonable value then, with Ladbrokes offering a stand-out 8/1, but I would not be as keen on him at his current odds.
In fact I would not have an ante-post suggestion for any race at the moment. I think the Champion Hurdle has a very open look to it, while we can't really get too involved with the Champion Chase until we know more about Sprinter Sacre. The same doubts hang over Big Buck's and Annie Power for the World Hurdle, while Bobs Worth is short enough at a general 2/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
I will be back early next week with some reflections on the weekend.
Bye for now
Sunday 5 January
Briar Hill won the Grade 2 Slaney Novice Hurdle at Naas this afternoon without doing more than one would have expected given the quality of the field. On paper it was a good effort to concede weight to Apache Jack and Very Wood, but one gets the feeling Willie Mullins may rate the likes of Faugheen and Vautour somewhat better.
He had caught the trainer slightly on the hop when striding away to win the Festival bumper and I expect the Supreme Novices' Hurdle will be his preferred target, although the trainer clearly has plenty of options open to him.
It was very sad to learn that Terry Biddlecombe died this morning at the age of 72. Terry had been very unwell for a while having been nursed through recent times by his wife Henrietta Knight. Together they enjoyed great success as a training partnership, notably with Best Mate winning three Gold Cups. Terry had been struggling since suffering a stroke in October, 2011.
Bye for now
Sunday 29 December
Hurricane Fly endorsed his position as jump racing's best hurdler of the modern era when landing his 18th Grade 1 race in today's Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Jezki, who finished two and a half lengths back in second, was a little squeezed for room approaching the last which may have cost him some momentum. Our Conor, who was noticeably weak in the market in the half hour before the race, had every chance before fading back into third, almost six lengths behind the winner.
Bookmaker reaction was mixed. Taking the best odds on offer, you can get 7/2 The New One and My Tent Or Yours, 4/1 Hurricane Fly and now 8/1 Jezki with Our Conor out in places to 10/1. Annie Power is next at 12/1, with Un De Sceaux at 16/1.
I don't have a strong view on the Champion Hurdle at this stage. I backed The New One at 8/1 in the autumn when working on my Dark Horses Guide, but I would not back anything at the current prices on offer.
It's no surprise to learn that Nigel Twiston-Davies plans to run a pacemaker at Cheltenham. My view is that the race will be run at a reasonable pace anyway, and a pacemaker is likely to play to the strengths of the hard-pulling My Tent Or Yours just as much as it will suit The New One.
Bobs Worth is now a top price of 3/1 for the Gold Cup following his typically gutsy return to winning form in Saturday's Lexus Chase. Given the horse's excellent record at Cheltenham and the likelihood that he will not be running again before March, I see no threat to his position at the head of the market.
Sir Des Champs is overpriced at 9/1 (Victor Chandler and Stan James) as he takes a while to find his form and will be suited by better ground.
I was pleased to see Mountainous win the Coral Welsh National. The horse was one of my three long-term picks for the race, although on the day I had become very keen on the runner-up Hawkes Point. This was a good effort by the winner, given that he was a few pounds out of the handicap.
Bye for now
Thursday 26 December
I had a feeling that if My Tent Or Yours was going to beat The New One then it could be today at Kempton, although I have to say I never expected to see Sam Twiston-Davies kick on so far from home on the favourite.
He has suggested before that his mount had got beaten by hitting the front too soon, but perhaps he took the view that the pace was not strong enough for The New One, who has won at the highest level over 2m 5f.
The New One will, in my view, reverse this form when the two meet at Cheltenham but the concern for his backers is his jumping. He is prone to flick the top of the flights and, on this occasion, he lost momentum when misjudging the last causing his rider to lose his right iron. My Tent Or Yours seldom settles in his races so it suited Tony McCoy to have something to aim at from the turn into the straight.
This year's Champion Hurdle promises to be a thriller, with Hurricane Fly and Our Conor due to clash at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Siviniaco Conti battled on well to reverse Haydock's Betfair Chase form with Cue Card in the King George VI Chase. Cue Card looked sure to win jumping the second last, but within a few strides he emptied out leaving the winner to pass him and go clear. Al Ferof stayed on to finish a respectable but well-beaten third. The disappointment of the race was Dynaste, while Long Run was beaten when unseating his rider at the last.
Today's results did not really have much of an effect on my thinking for Cheltenham. I still have an open mind on the Gold Cup, while I expect The New One to reverse Kempton form with My Tent Or Yours in March. Whether he can beaten Hurricane Fly or Our Conor is another matter.
Bye for now.
Monday 23 December
The big talking point in racing circles this week will be the state of the going. There has to be some concern over conditions at Chepstow, with underfoot conditions already given as heavy and around 30mm or rain predicted over the next few days. The weather may get better on Christmas Day but then there are more showers on the way on Friday.
The ground is usually testing for the Welsh National meeting but this year's renewal could be especially gruelling.
Things may be better at Kempton, although heavy rain is expected there as well. The ground rode very soft for last year's meeting and it will be interesting to see if there are similar conditions again this year. If so then that would seriously count against the chances of Cue Card, who did not seem to get home in the mud last year.
I have just completed almost 6,000 words looking ahead to the big races this week and other bits and pieces for Ireland and elsewhere. I am confident there will be a few winners hidden away, with special interest in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown.
I would like to close by thanking you for your interest in my thoughts this last 12 months. It has been an interesting and, on occasions, challenging year. From a purely selfish viewpoint my hope for 2014 is that I back and advise fewer seconds! At the last count there had been around 50 - each of them worth a sizeable win.
Happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year to you all!
Saturday 21 December
It takes a special type of horse to get Paul Nicholls animated these days, and there is no mistaking the high esteem in which he holds this son of Singspiel. The horse has a good turn of foot and although the ring is not as lively as it once was, I was intrigued to see so many lumpy bets recorded on the horse in the Racing Post report.
Friday 13 December
Whenever I have a choice at Cheltenham between a horse endowed with stamina and one with speed I find it invariably pays to side with the more stoutly-bred of the two.<p style="text-al
Marten Julian, 69 Highgate, Kendal, Cumbria. LA9 4ED Tel: 08448 11 22 96 - Fax: 08448 11 22 97 - email: email@example.com