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Wednesday 24 November 2021

Cheltenham 2022: Making a Case Against the Ante-Post Favourites

Ask any experienced punter about ante-post betting and they’ll tell you it’s something of an art form. But it’s not an easy skill to master. What’s true in November is not necessarily true in March. And if you don’t have NRNB (non-runner no bet), there’s a fair chance you’ve kissed your cash goodbye regardless of the result of the race.

But there are market movers across the winter months for the big races in spring, particularly Cheltenham. Indeed, much to the chagrin of some racing fans, the entire jumps season seems geared towards Cheltenham. Yet, a steady trickle of money comes in on the Cheltenham ante-post markets, and we wonder whether anyone is getting sucked into backing short-priced favourites?

Let’s start by talking about the most important factor – precedence. In terms of statistics, we rarely see horses who have led the ante-post markets at the beginning of the season carry that through to Cheltenham.

Early ante-post favourites statistically unlikely to win

Consider the four winners of the feature races last March: Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle), Put the Kettle On (Champion Chase), Flooring Porter (Stayers’ Hurdle), and Minella Indo (Gold Cup). Not one of those horses led the ante-post markets for their respective races in 2020. Yes, Honeysuckle went off as 11/10 favourite, but the momentum only started gathering for the mare after the Irish Champion Hurdle in February.

On the other hand, Put the Kettle On was still available at 40/1 with some firms for the Champion Chase as we reached the new year. The Champion Chase can be particularly gruesome for backers of favourites as a general rule. 2017 saw Douvan flop at micro-odds of 2/9, Defi De Seuil finished second last when going off at 2/5 in 2020, and Chacun Pour Soi failed to deliver at 8/13 in 2021.

So, how do you make the case right now for Shishkin, who is currently priced at 5/4 for the 2022 Champion Chase? Nobody is doubting that Nicky Henderson’s horse isn’t a class act. Shishkin is on an eight-race winning streak, a run that includes the 2020 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle last March.

Yet we haven’t seen Shishkin this season (the Tingle Creek Chase on 4th December is likely), and we can’t quite shake the feeling that anyone backing the 7yo is playing with fire. Nube Negra, a fine winner at the Shloer Chase last weekend, looks a craftier pick at 10/1, and you can’t rule out Chacun Pour Soi bouncing back at 6/1.

The Gold Cup can be difficult to work out

What then about the big one – the Cheltenham Gold Cup? It’s always a puzzle. And while it’s not exactly a lottery, you might want to look at the tips for last year’s Gold Cup. Minella Indo, the 2021 winner, is the current favourite at 5/1, but that feels more like a case of someone having to be favourite. If you watched Minella Indo’s season debut at Down Royal, you’d be left scratching your head as to how this horse leads the Gold Cup markets.

While it’s a bit early in the season to be backing Gold Cup horses with any conviction, we would be much more comfortable having our money on Chantry House (14/1) or even two-time winner Al Boum Photo at 20/1. The latter is just 9yo and certainly not done. Willie Mullins used to keep Al Boum Photo lightly raced in the lead up to those victories in 2019 and 2020, but he recently said we would be seeing a bit more of him as he wanted the horse “battle-hardened”.

Perhaps the overarching theme here is to have patience. For all of us, it should be a big no-no to back any horse that has not yet run this season. Moreover, it’s almost certainly a better option to back a few longshots rather than pile in on a short-priced favorite. If a horse is sitting at evens now, there’s only so much the bookmakers can shave off that price. And as we saw with Put the Kettle On last season, you can still get value in the new year.

Monday 22 November 2021

Beech Road

Owned by Tony Geake and trained by Toby Balding, Beech Road was a highly successful hurdler and steeplechaser, probably best remembered for winning the Champion Hurdle at the 1989 Cheltenham Festival at odds of 50/1. At the start of the 1988/89 National Hunt season, the intention was to send Beech Road over fences and, after two unsuccessful starts over hurdles, he duly made his steeplechasing debut at Newton Abbot on Boxing Day. He was in second place when unseating his rider, Rae Guest, behind odds-on winner Sabin Du Loir, which led to Guest being replaced by Graham McCourt on his next start at Cheltenham. Sent off even money favourite in a three-runner novices' chase, Beech Road was upsides eventual winner Waterloo Boy when falling at the final fence, but lay motionless on the Prestbury Park turf for 15 minutes before rising to his feet.

That spelt the end of an abortive chasing career, at least for the time being. Two starts later, returned to hurdles and re-united with Guest, Beech Road won the National Spirit Challenge Trophy at Fontwell and, in so doing, beat Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Vagador, who was conceding 12lb by 20 lengths, unchallenged. Nevertheless, despite arriving at Cheltenham 'in the form of his life', according to Guest, he was still sent off 50/1 twelfth choice of the 15 runners, behind 11/8 favourite Kribensis. Settled off a fast pace, Beech Road was among the back-markers at the top of the hill, but made good headway on the outside from the second last flight, led at the last and ran on strongly up the hill to beat Celtic Chief by 2 lengths.

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Historical Upsets You Wish You Had Bet on

There is an English phrase that goes ‘hindsight is 20/20’

Things and events are always more apparent when we look back at them. Sadly, short of turning back the hands of time, we are often left with regrets. Well, for the optimists, it is a case of lessons learned.

That is particularly true when it comes to horse races and gamers’ decisions. History is fraught with incredible moments when racing outcomes left punters wishing they could have been there and aggressively played the stakes differently.

Here are some of the historical upsets in horse races that undoubtedly left punters biting their knuckles in pining lamentations and, in some cases, regret.

  1. Grand National, 1928

William Dutton was an amateur jockey participating in a global horse racing sensation, the Grand National horse race in Liverpool, England.

Just before the race began, one of William's buddies called out in jest, saying, “Billy boy, you'll only win if all the others fall!”

And fall they did! All 41 of them, leaving Dutton's Tipperary Tim as the first horse to cross the finish line.

Due to the misty and muddy conditions in the arena, all the 41 other competitors slipped and fell.

Although some competitors nonetheless got back up and attempted to finish the race, they proved to be a little too late, leaving amateur Dutton and his trusty Tim to take the 1928 Grand National title.

  1. Kentucky Derby, 1953

Native Dancer (a.k.a the White Ghost) was an American thoroughbred who dominated the news and television broadcasts due to his impressive wins and performance.

According to the Blood-Horse Magazine, the stud is ranked 7th in the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.

However, one fine morning in February 1953, Native Dancer, who was 3-years old, faced off against an unexpected rival- the 2-year old Dark Star.

Although Native Dancer appeared to have the odds stacked in his favor at the beginning of the race, Dark Star soon set a blistering pace leaving the seasoned 3-year old struggling to keep up.

While he put up a good fight, Native Dancer still finished a head short of Dark Star’s unexpected lead.

  1. Kentucky Derby, 2019

Fast forward to more recent times, the 2019 Kentucky Derby once again witnessed another shocking upset when Country Horse won the race following the disqualification of Maximum Security, who was a popular favorite.

Even more shocking is that the disqualification came right after Maximum Security had crossed the finish line in the first position ahead of Country Horse.

However, following a complaint lodged by Flavien Pratt, a jockey, the leading horse was dispossessed of that win. That was due to its interference with other horses during the race, which had resulted in a near spill.

It was an unexpected result since it was the first winner disqualification in Kentucky Derby's 144-year history.

To sum up:

Like most competitions, horse racing is as thrilling as it is nerve-wracking. For punters looking for an adrenaline rush, they are worth playing.

Most of the upsets in sports are often unforeseeable and form part of the excitement.

Nonetheless, those looking for mild enjoyment or are unwilling to enjoy the self-induced high octane adrenaline rush that comes with race bets can still opt for 3D slot Games.

These are available in brick-and-mortar casinos and online gaming sites. Compared to the racing bets, slot games require little background knowledge and can be played by gaming newbies and veterans alike.

Tuesday 14 September 2021

He Knows No Fear


For nearly three decades, the record for the longest-priced winner in British horse racing history was held by Equinoctial, who defied odds of 250/1 when winning the Grants Whisky Novices' Handicap Hurdle at Kelso on November 21, 1990. However, on August 13, 2020, that record finally fell when the three-year-old He Knows No Fear got up in the dying strides to win the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden, over a mile, at Leopardstown at odds of 300/1. Those interested in online gambling will have made a bundle if they bet on it. 

Bred, owned and trained by Luke Comer in Dunboyne, Co. Meath, the son of unheralded sire Mourayan had made his racecourse debut, under apprentice Gabi Bourke, in a similar race at Limerick the previous month, for which he started at odds of 250/1. On that occasion, he was slowly into his stride – in fact, 'left half a furlong', according to assistant trainer, Jim Gorman – and eventually trailed in twelfth of the fourteen runners, beaten 18 lengths.

However, on his second start, He Knows No Fear was ridden by Classic-winning jockey Chris Hayes. Unsurprisingly, He Knows No Fear still showed signs of inexperience when ridden two furlongs from home, but made rapid headway on the outside of the field from the furlong marker. He went second behind favourite Agitare – officially rated 98, but still a maiden after seven starts – inside the final hundred yards and stayed on strongly to lead on the line and win by a head.

Comer and his family have bred exclusively from Mourayan since he was exported back to Ireland from Australia in early 2015. Quoted in the 'Racing Post', Comer said, 'He Knows No Fear is a nice horse. The first race, you couldn't go by, because he got left in the stalls. I think Mourayan is not a bad sire at all.'

Monday 16 August 2021



On paper, the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase, run over 2 miles 1½ furlongs at Fairyhouse on February 23, 2019, appeared to be a match between Dakota Moirette, trained by Gordon Elliott, and Aint Dunne Yet, trained by Noel Meade. Indeed, in the seven-runner contest, the bookmakers bet 1/2 Dakota Moirette, 7/2 Aint Dunne Yet and 12/1 bar the pair at the 'off'.

The market looked like proving an accurate guide to the outcome as, between the final two fences, Dakota Moirette and Aint Dunne Yet, who had led or disputed the lead from the start, drew a long way clear of their rivals. At that stage, commentator Tony O'Hehir said, 'They have it between them', and so they did. They approached the final fence neck-and-neck, but Dakota Moirette put down when asked to pick up by jockey Jack Kennedy and fell, directly in front of Aint Dunne Yet, whose jockey was unseated a few strides later.

Thankfully, both horses and both jockeys survived unscathed, but the untimely demise of the market leaders left the way clear for Graineyhill, a stable companion of Dakota Moirette, to saunter home by 8 lengths. Sent off at 12/1, the 8-year-old gelding had been ridden along in a moderate third place, 20 lengths or more behind the clear leaders, by Keith Donoghue after the second last fence and was making no impression when the race effectively fell into his lap. Officially described as 'lucky' by the 'Racing Post', his unlikely win was especially fortuitous for the fleet-fingered Betfair layers who matched him at 999/1, to the tune of £80, in-running.

Tuesday 15 June 2021

Bubble Boy

Respected professional punter Alan Potts once said, 'The principle is that if as a result of your form analysis, you can make a good argument for supporting a longshot, then you must make the bet.The key factor is that no bet on such a horse can be expected to fulfil the same exacting criteria that you would apply to a 4/1 shot.' A case in point was Bubble Boy, a six-year-old gelding, trained by Brendan Powell, who won a beginners' chase at Fontwell, on his chasing debut, on January 24, 2005, at odds of 100/1.

Sired by the American-bred stallion Hubbly Bubbly – at that stage, already responsible for winning steeplechaser Cloudy Bays – Bubble Boy was bought by Powell, on behalf of the late John Plackett, from former weighing room colleague Adrian Maguire. According to Powell, Maguire told him 'not to waste our time over hurdles and to put him straight over fences'. Bubble Boy did run twice in National Hunt Flat Races for his new connections, while he didn't win, but finishing fifth of fifteen at Exeter in April, 2004 and tailed-off tenth of thirteen, after a 202-day break, at Plumpton the following November.

Obviously, when he lined up at Fontwell, his previous form was, at best, modest, but he was, at least, unexposed, which is not something that could be said for many of his six rivals. The decision to send him straight over fences was intriguing and, for a horse with sufficient size and scope to justify the idea that he would make a steeplechaser, his earlier defeats were entirely forgiveable. In any event, Bubble Boy made all the running under conditional jockey James Davies and, although all out at the finish, held on to beat 8/13 favourite Distant Thunder – who had been beaten on his four previous starts over fences – by half a length.

Sunday 2 May 2021

Auroras Encore


In the history of the Grand National, several of the longest-priced winners, notably Tipperary Tim in 1928 and Foinavon in 1967, have taken advantage of atrocious weather conditions and/or a mid-race pile-up, which put paid to the chances of many of their rivals, to record unlikely victories. However, the victory of Auroras Encore in 2013, while almost equally unlikely, had little to do with meteorlogy or fortuity.

In fact, during the 2013 renewal of the Grand National, run on good to soft going, in fair weather, just eight horses fell or unseated rider and 17 of the 40 starters completed the course. Indeed, for the first time in 166 runnings of the celebrated steeplechase, the whole field reached The Canal Turn – the eighth fence on the first circuit of the Grand National Course – unscathed and 32 horses were still standing heading out into the country for the second time.

Auroras Encore, an 11-year-old trained by Sue Smith, in High Eldwick, West Yorkshire, had finished second, beaten just a head, in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr the previous April but, after seven subsequent unplaced efforts, was sent off at 66/1 on his first attempt in the Grand National proper. Arguably well handicapped, off a mark 6lb lower than at Ayr, Auroras Encore mainly jumped well for his jockey, Ryan Mania, who was having his first ride in the race. He survived a mistakes at the tenth and twenty-seventh fences and, having jumped the second last in third place, joined the leader, Teaforthree, at the final fence. Thereafter, he never looked like being caught and was driven clear on the run-in to cause a 'huge shock'.

Monday 15 March 2021

Spanish Don

Generally speaking, it would be fair to say that bookmakers don’t make too many mistakes and, even in a race as competitive as the Cambridgeshire Handicap at Newmarket – the second leg of the traditional ‘Autumn Double’ – most horses that are sent off at 100/1 fully deserve to be that price. However, Spanish Don who, in 2004, became the joint-longest-priced winner of the aforementioned Cambridgeshire definitely didn’t.

Indeed, reflecting on the ‘unlikely’ victory of his six-year-old, winning trainer David Elsworth quipped, ‘I suppose it’s my popularity that made him 100-1.Even the muppets in the Racing Post said you couldn’t leave him out. It was a surprise he was 100-1. It wasn’t a surprise he won. I had a few quid on, but I’m a mug punter, aren’t I?’

In the preceding two seasons, Spanish Don had won four of his nine starts for Elsworth, after being transferred from Philip Mitchell in September, 2003 and, in so doing, risen 20lb in the weights. On his two starts immediately before the Cambridgeshire, the Zafonic gelding had again run well, off his revised mark of 95, when fifth of fifteen, beaten just two lengths, in a Class 2 handicap over 1 mile 2 furlongs at Goodwood and, after a short break, finishing ninth of eighteen, beaten 5¾ lengths, in a similar race at Newbury. Based on those performances, it could be argued that Spanish Don was, perhaps, a little high in the weights, but quite how that equated to a triple-figure starting price remains something of a mystery.

Monday 22 February 2021

Thursday 7 January 2021

Norton’s Coin

The Cheltenham Festival is, of course, the pinnacle of National Hunt racing and, granted the host of competitive races on offer, long-priced winners are to be expected. However, the longest-priced winner in the history of the Cheltenham Festival came not, as you might expect, in a traditional ‘cavalry charge’, such as the Coral Cup, Pertemps Final or County Hurdle, but in the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself.

Indeed, the victory of 100/1 outsider Norton’s Coin in the 1990 Cheltenham Gold Cup was reported in the ‘Racing Post’ the following day under the headline ‘Shock of the Century’. In a real-life rags-to-riches story to rival the fictional ‘National Velvet’, Norton’s Coin was bred, owned and trained by Sirrell Griffiths, a permit-holder from Carmarthenshire in West Wales, who had just three horses at the time. Griffiths had originally intended to run Norton’s Coin in a handicap chase, but failed to declare the nine-year-old. He opted for the Gold Cup instead when he learned that Jenny Pitman intended to run a horse that Norton’s Coin had beaten, seeking to finish in the first five or six to recoup his entry fee.

Despite his eye-watering starting price, Norton’s Coin never gave his supporters – not that he had many – an anxious moment. On the prevailing good to firm going, he was always travelling well under jockey Graham McCourt and, having taken the lead on the infamously stiff ‘Cheltenham Hill’, battled on to hold third-favourite Toby Tobias by three-quarters of a length. Defending champion, and odds-on favourite, Desert Orchid finished third, a further four lengths away, and the winning time, 6 minutes 30.9 seconds.