The dreaded ‘Cheltenham Hill’. The undulating run from the turn towards the line that fills jockeys and punters alike with the kind of dread you feel after seeing your mum reading 50 Shades of Grey. And smiling. Many a good horse has bounded freely round the course only to come unstuck up the hill, appearing to slog up the last 200 yards like a sloth wading through custard, breaking the hearts of punters.
But the horses at the Cheltenham Festival are the best of the best. They are the leading horses in their division. Surely they shouldn’t be phased by a minor slope?
Well, the Paddy Power Blog has crunched the last 134 Festival winners to try to bust the myth, and it turns out that if you’re having a punt, a horse’s course form at Cheltenham is well worth considering.
In the last five years, more than half of all the Cheltenham Festival winners have previously won or been placed in a race around Cheltenham. Thus proving that a previous gallop up the hill into the frame makes for decent preparation when you return for the Festival. Obviously in the last five years there are some races that are slightly skewed by genuine heroes (and heroines) of the sport. Quevega for instance won the last six Mares’ Hurdles in a row so she had proven course form from 2009 and just never stopped winning. Other races are skewed the other way. For example a lot of the winners of the Triumph Hurdle and the Champion Bumper are young horses, unlikely to have been to Cheltenham before.
But as a whole, we can deduce that previous form around Cheltenham should certainly be considered when having a punt, particularly in some of the key races.
The last five winners of the Arkle are Western Warhorse, Simonsig, Sprinter Sacre, Captain Chris and Sizing Europe. Three of these had previously won at Cheltenham before winning the Arkle, and the other two – Western Warhorse and Sprinter Sacre – had placed at the course before winning at the Festival. It looks like one of the strongest races were course form is important and despite being just 2 miles, the trends suggest a previous good run around Cheltenham is key.
That’s bad news if you’ve backed the red-hot favourite Un De Sceaux, but all the more positive if you’ve had a nibble on the Paul Nicholls trained Vibrato Valtat. He was second to Dunraven Storm in the Grade 2 Arkle Trophy Trial at Cheltenham in November, and before that was third at the course in a hurdle race. It’s also good news for anyone who has had a nibble on Josses Hill at 9/1. Nicky Henderson’s lad was second at the Festival last year, behind Vatour in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. People will say he is as confident in the air as Eddie the Eagle, but he might be worth an each-way play at the odds thanks to some Cheltenham experience.
Course form also seems a big trend to follow in the biggest race of the week…
The only Gold Cup winner in the last five years to have not previously won or placed at the course was Synchronised in 2012. He had fallen at the Festival in 2009 (in the Pertemps) and was then sixth of 16 at the course in a hurdle in December 2010. Notably he finished strongly up the hill on that occasion and won the Gold Cup 18 months later. The other four winners – Lord Windermere, Bobs Worth, Long Run and Imperial Commander – all had previous Cheltenham form, with all bar Imperial Commander winning at the course before winning the Gold Cup.
That’s a big thumbs up for previous Gold Cup heroes Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth, as well as Many Clouds and Holywell. Many Clouds won a Grade 2 chase at the course in January, while Holywell has a 100 per cent record at the track with two wins from two. Silviniaco Conti has never won round here, and fell when travelling strongly in the 2013 Gold Cup, but a third place finish in a hurdle race in 2010 at Cheltenham gives him the form to get a tick from the trends.
Unfortunately it’s bad news for Irish trio Road To Riches, Djakadam and Carlingford Loch. While Road To Riches has never been to Cheltenham, Djakadam fell here on his only previous visit in last year’s JLT Novices’ Chase and Carlingford Loch found nothing up the hill finishing sixth in the 2014 RSA Chase. Hardly the ringing endorsement AP McCoy wants to hear going into his final Gold Cup, no matter how many horses he has dragged round Cheltenham kicking and screaming.