horse racing

What we learned from the weekend: 21st & 22nd February…

14 days to go racing fans.

14 days and then it’s OUR Christmas.

14 days until FOUR days of heaven.

Four days we have been salivating over since Savello topped off a fantastic day for the Irish on Cheltenham Gold Cup day 2014.

Cheltenham 2015! It’s almost here!

But whilst we are in a perpetual state of looking forward to the festival we must remember to look back to see ‘what we learned from the weekend‘…


What we learned from the weekend: 21st & 22nd February… 

1. With the weights released last week the shackles were loosened on some Grand National contenders…

Rocky Creek romping to BetBright Chase glory was the obvious stand-out performance from the Grand National hopefuls and his trainer, Paul Nicholls, has made no secret that the 2015 Aintree Grand National is his main target this season.

Last season the 9yo finished a fine 5th in the big one, jumping four out in the lead before fading on the long run to the line after the last. That was from a mark of OR 156 whilst this year he will be able to bid for glory from a mark of OR 154, the same mark he just landed the BetBright Chase from (no penalty will be added to him for Aintree). Is that enough to get himself on the podium? Even better? It’s a possibility but he is starting to show some strong patterns in his profile, patterns that don’t necessarily mark him out as an obvious National winner.

For starters he now has form of 112111 during the December to February period. In other months he is ‘only’ 8352222P. He is starting to look like a winter wonder.

There are also signs that he has stamina limitations as over 3m & 3m 0.5f trips he is 82112111 but over longer trips (3m1f+) he is ‘only’ 322P5. That’s far from conclusive, obviously, but he didn’t quite seem to get home last year and it may just be that three miles is optimum and longer trips stretch his stamina reserves to their limits.

Rocky Creek perhaps doesn’t quite shout ‘Grand National winner’ to me but there was one runner in that BetBright Chase that seriously caught my eye, and he’s an old NTF friend to boot… GODSMEJUDGE.

Alan King’s 2013 Scottish National winner was having only his second start of the season and he was clearly only around 90-95% fit for this assignment. He hit a major flat spot mid-race before stonking down the Kempton home-straight to finish with a rattle and grab 5th place in the shadow of the post.

He will be racing off OR 145 at Aintree, the same mark he finished 3rd from in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown and 2nd from in last season’s Scottish National. It’s also only 6lbs higher than his aforementioned Scottish National victory. That’s a mark he can clearly do damage from and conditions at Aintree should be bang on ideal for the son of Witness Box…

For starters we know he stays extreme trips as he has a fine record of 2P3312 in races over 3m5f or further.

He also loves racing in big fields as he has outstanding form figures of 3123 in fields of 16 or more.

He should also relish the likely better ground as 3 of his 5 career wins have come on Good ground and his RPR figures point towards him being a much better animal on Good & Good to Soft ground. He also excels in April, as highlighted by his Scottish National form and his Bet365 Gold Cup 3rd.

His jumping will also stand him in good stead for Aintree as he very rarely makes significant errors in his races and he is yet to fall or un-seat in 20 career starts (14 over fences).

I’ve had a preliminary look at my trends for the National and at this moment in time he is a serious box-ticker. He is likely to have another start before Aintree, which makes perfect sense, so result depending that will change his trends profile slightly, but all in all I expect him to bang there on my shortlist come the day.

A Dosage Profile of 4-1-12-0-7 | 24 | 20+ | 0.85 | -0.21 also puts him bang in the picture as well!

Alan King looks to be expertly priming his top-class stayer for Aintree glory…


2. Willie Mullins may just be planning a bit of an explosive handicap plot…

…in the shape of high-class flat performer MAX DYNAMITE.

Despite being comfortably beaten at short prices on his last two starts (including when a 14 length 4th in a Grade Two at Naas on Sunday) I get the feeling there may be more than meets the eye with this 5yo.

On the face of it this was a second disappointing effort in a row but his three hurdle starts to date have all indicated that he probably wants further than a bare two miles (something both Ruby Walsh & Willie Mullins have hinted at) so it will be interesting to see if he now enters handicaps from what will probably be a lenient mark, gained over trips that are probably a bit too short for him.

He actually holds five entries at the Cheltenham Festival – the three Grade One Novice Hurdle events + two handicap entries in the County Hurdle and the Martin Pipe Hurdle – and the chances are they won’t stick him in the Grade One’s. That leaves the two handicap options.

The Martin Pipe is the obvious one if further is indeed what he needs. Alternatively it may be that he needs the fast pace of a large field race (his debut hurdle victory was in an 18 runner field whilst his last two starts were four and five runner events) so he would also be of interest over two miles if it’s a field of around 16 or more (which the County Hurdle will be).

Mullins has so much novice firepower at his disposal it would make sense for him to look at alternative options for some of them. Max Dynamite is a prime contender to be played outwith novice territory. I wouldn’t be giving up him just yet…

Keep an eye on the mark Max Dynamite is allocated…


3. Sire De Grugy threw his hat back into the QMCC ring…

That was more like it from Gary Moore’s 9yo and it could well have just been that he wasn’t quite as fit as they thought last time out at Newbury in the Game Spirit Chase.

I have to, however, query how he was given an RPR figure for this effort that was 1lb HIGHER than his QMCC victory of last year and equal to his CAREER BEST!

None of the three opponents in Saturday’s race were realistically good enough to challenge him so I would take the fact he has was given an RPR figure of 174 with a pinch of salt. Sure it’s no mean feat winning a handicap from a mark of OR 172 but none of the opposition had come close to the form SDG had previously shown and were never likely to seriously make a dent in him.

He does now, however, deserve to be a serious consideration for back to back Cheltenham victories and we at least now have visual evidence that he still has a winning mentality.

On the trends side of things he should figure high enough although it is worth noting that 14 of the last 15 QMCC winners had their warm-up outing in a Graded contest, Saturday’s outing was most certainly not a Graded contest.

Sire De Grugy re-enters the (muddy) QMCC equation but did he really need to be back to his absolute best at Chepstow?


NTF and Cheltenham 2015

Two things to mention…

1) The FREE Cheltenham Guide I promised – Cheltenham 2015: Ten essential Cheltenham Festival stats you NEED to be aware of – will be released tomorrow or Thursday.

If you want it you NEED to be on the FREE NTF list.

Join here >>>

2) The doors to allow you to hook on to the full NTF service for Cheltenham week will be open next week.

This will be the SIXTH year of a Cheltenham service from myself and the same dedication will be applied this year as it always has been. I’ll be attacking around 20 of the races from the four days using my unique and alternative Dosage & Trends approach.

As always there are only a certain number of spaces available for Cheltenham week so again if you don’t want to miss out then you really need to be on the free list so that you will receive the email informing you that the doors are open.

If you are not familiar with what an NTF race guide is about then please find a recent members guide below. This is exactly how I approach all the major races on the National Hunt calender and Cheltenham is no different.

>>>NTF Members Guide example [click to download]

I look forward to seeing plenty of you in the members area for Cheltenham week!

Ben (NTF)

6 responses to “What we learned from the weekend: 21st & 22nd February…”

  1. Hi Ben,

    A pleasure to read as always.

    I’ve been thinking that Mullins would eventually look at some handicap plots given the strength in numbers in the novice hurdle division. Could the boys in green also be on that track with the Juveniles they have the triumph favorite and several others in there could they have a one or more well handicapped for the Fred Winter?

    Regarding the Grand National I’m thinking Spring Heeled could be the one. Won the Kim Muir on a road, ran well in B365 in less than ideal conditions then 4th to Road to Riches over an inadequate trip. Will have needed the run at the weekend 25/1 looks a steal.

    • Hi Ian

      That’s a fair point re. the boys in green. They must surely be at least considering a fair old crack at the Fred Winter with at least one of their battalion.

      As for Spring Heeled I’m very much bang there with you. He was one of those I was thinking about this weekend when writing this and he would be at the forefront of my thoughts at the minute for the National.

      Cheers – Ben (NTF)

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