The curtain fell on the opening meeting at the Cheltenham course, which in my mind marks the real start to the national hunt season, and for good reason too. All three days didn’t disappoint in delivering a top spectacle to wet the whistle of race goers whom favour the tweed jacket over the top hat for the winter months for what I, and many others call, “proper racing”.
However, it was the Paddy Power Gold Cup meeting in name only as it may as well have been named the Phillip Hobbs and Richard Johnson show – that name sounded a lot catchier in my head. The Somerset-based trainer and jockey posted a meeting total of six wins combining for a 106/1 three-timer on the first day alone, which somewhat downplays the significance of the achievement. Today’s haul brings the Hobbs/Johnson total of recent Cheltenham winners to 14 (of 73) resulting in a level stakes profit of £15.73 boasting a 19.18% strike rate. Of course in the cold light of (retrospective) day it appears easy to assume that backing them was a good idea, but of the last three years the statistics will tell you that it was a wise move with the pair beating their rivals by a rate of 25% more than expected by the market, and that is what we as punters really want to know.
The tools on Formbet let us make sense of this data by simply asking the greatest form expert, mathematician and all round genius, FRED what he thinks. Have you not met FRED? Well, he is not actually a “he” at all, he’s a “thing” with FRED being an acronym for the Formbet RacE Database. FRED is one of the tools utilised by myself when looking at a perceived edge in the market to make sure it actually is in fact an edge. In this instance, we can see that of the winning-most trainers at Cheltenham, three of the top five have a positive expectancy (Win more races than the market thinks they will), however, only two actually yield a profit. Who are they? None other than Philip Hobbs and neighbouring trainer, David Pipe – and you’d be hard pushed to gauge the ability of one of his string on the day let alone trying to get a price.
It would've been handier to know this information Friday morning.
I'm not a massive fan of early season betting, especially in the type of testing underfoot conditions as were had during the festival as fitness comes to the fore and it’s the one thing as punters we have to take on faith, and I’m all out of having faith in trainers. However, I decided to throw a few speculative coins at a few throughout the day including GEVREY CHAMBERTAIN – but no sooner had the ink dried on the docket, I knew my fate. The horse is still farcically underrated by the market in my opinion and 18/1 was a cracking price, but does himself no favours by walking through some of his fences, which staying true to form he decided he didn't fancy the look of the first three around the Cotswold's. I’m of the mind that if he jumps, he wins. He has a fantastic cruising speed and if he could clean his jumping up he could be very classy indeed. However, what about that ride from the ginger ninja, Sam Twiston-Davies on SAM WINNER - the top-weight was only short of claiming benefits he’s that lazy and STD had to get after him from the get go and looked out of it down the back, but stays all day and wasn’t going to be beaten. The Nicholls/STD is no doubt going to be a formidable combination this season.
Next up, I decided to detach myself from reality and wonder what it was like to be totally carefree with money and so I decided to donate money to a well-known charity, Betfair via the medium of OSCAR WHISKY in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. He was top of the ratings in the race and was definitely overpriced at 11/1 early on in the day given he’s won three of six chase starts, falling once and placing second twice behind 159-rated TAQUAN DU SEUIL and Sunday’s Shloer Chase winner UXIZANDRE who is shaping into a real 2m chase contender. He was given a peach of a ride through the race in a fair pace with Barry Geraghty settling him mid-division, he jumped well the whole way and only for being badly checked three out was going as good as anything in the race. Continued to rally all the way to the line finishing a valiant fourth. Certainly more to come from this lad.
On Sunday, the entire day – for me anyway – was based around Punchestown and the seasonal return of the wonder that is HURRICANE FLY I was pleasantly surprised to see the champion clear top of the ratings for the race and therefore was even more excited to see he was on the drift all day. Before that, however, I had the small matter of dealing with the Supreme Novices’ trial in which I couldn’t see past the Nicky Henderson trained runner VYTA DU ROC – couldn’t get beat in my eyes and had a clear favourite’s chance so when it opened up at 9/2 I was over the moon. I managed to get 4/1 and watched as he dropped like a stone through the field, looking like he was hating the conditions. “Done my money here!” I said, but what did I know. The master touch of Geraghty gave him a breather coming down the hill and came out on top in a hard fought finish beating EMERGING TALENT putting in a performance I thought was one of the best of the meeting. The Seven Barrows inmate was a strong contender across the ratings and despite only having three previous starts was awarded top marks for form. His game aptitude coupled with a 255-day layoff made his win all the more impressive to my eye. It will be interesting to see where connections aim him as his future looks to lay over a further trip and is now being given quotes of 20/1 for the Neptune, which given today’s wind-issue – in which I assume will be rectified – looks a fair price. However, Henderson has stated that he’ll keep him over 2m for the interim, but what does the multiple champion trainer know?
VYTA DU ROC had not only landed me a few shillings off a single, but I’d stuck an uncharacteristic treble on with a well-known charity on Sunday as I’d spotted three stand-out selections who were clear top of the ratings and the 268/1 odds should have told me everything I needed to know, but it didn’t.
The second in the treble was Venetia Williams trained GORGEHOUS LLIEGE which, given today’s conditions at Fontwell was of interest. Venetia specialises in mud-slingers and all of her runners are to be respected in races which are likely to be a war of attrition. Liam Tredwell and Venetia Williams are one of the most profitable pairings to follow, yielding a level stakes profit of £161, which is boosted to a phenomenal £252 if taking into account only handicap chases. Treadwell got the horse in a fine rhythm and lead for the most part, jumping his rivals into the ground only to blunder the last to give me momentary heart palpitations, but ran out a game winner at 8/1.
So I’m left with the agonising decision on whether or not to cash out, lay some of it off or just let it roll? I recall Clement Freud’s frequent racing column’s telling tales of his despair in letting multiples run and seeing them go down and wishing he’d not been so greedy, so really I should’ve heeded the warning. Suffice to say…. I didn’t. The torment to punters knows no bounds and even when we are winning, we’re being put through our proverbial paces in order to keep the momentum on side. In fact, I’m going to shirk all responsibility and place the blame with those on the FormBet chat room to whom I sought counsel.
VANITEUX was my final selection of the treble, running in the race of the day and was relatively strong at the head of the market at 5/1 given trainer, Nicky Henderson’s comments stating “It’s him [VANITEUX] or nothing” when quizzed over his Champion Hurdle contenders. My thinking was, if he fancies him to win a Champion Hurdle in the era of some serious contenders then he needs to be beating this mob, despite carrying top weight. He ran with a lot of credit and for all the world he was going as good as anything turning in for home, charting the shortest route on the rail and I found myself counting out the four-figure winnings, but was brought down to earth as the man of the meeting, Dickie Johnson pressed go on GARDE LE VICTOIRE and off he shot by a good four lengths approaching the last to run out a ready winner of one of the most competitive handicaps of the meeting. Well, “sick” is a word I'd use to describe my feeling after the race, but it's one of those things. I'll take a small victory in coming that close to landing a big one in the first place – something I wouldn't of been able to do without the Formbet ratings.
Still an all, a number of the trends lads had the winner, so at least some of my betting comrades we're able to celebrate. Perhaps they'll buy the pints in order for me to drown my sorrows…… I don't care what anyone says, that's the best way to deal with defeat, honest.
Lastly, to rub salt in my open wounds, I'm sure there’s no coincidence that following the Greatwood Hurdle race came a Lloyds bank advert in which it shows people telling us what the best day of their life was, all in a bid for Lloyds to say that they are “with you every step of the way”. What’s this got to do with anything? Well, I’m wondering will my bank manager be as accommodating given a depleted account on Monday morning.
Safe to say, the National Hunt season is truly underway – but I can't help but ponder just how golden the meeting could've been. I may get Geldof to record a tune in order to collect some donations on my behalf.