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Dublin: 9 °C Friday 6 December, 2019

Why this could be a myth-busting year at Cheltenham

Follow Willie with the Fillies? Thom Malone breaks down the key trends.

Willie Mullins speaking to the media at Leopardstown.
Willie Mullins speaking to the media at Leopardstown.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

THE PREVIEW NIGHTS are nearly done and the Cheltenham Festival is almost upon us.

The tips have been read and the trends analysed. However, the build up to this year’s festival has been unique so some established trends may become thoroughly unfashionable. This could be the myth-busting Festival.

Four year olds don’t win the bumper

The closing race on Wednesday, the Bumper at Cheltenham, is frequently dominated by a whole host of this season’s top bumper winners, especially in Ireland.

But Malone Road, doesn’t run due to injury, and Envoi Allen doesn’t seem to be the trainer’s first choice, rather the owner’s.

Willie Mullins hasn’t had the same volume of winners in this sphere as usual and in a year of low entries only has two, Mt Leinster and Blue Sari.

Blue Sari is only four, Cue Card was the last to win it at that age. With doubts about so many near the top of the market, Blue Sari could end the wait for a youngster to win, and in doing so providing Willie Mullins with a 10th success in the race.

Flat horses don’t win at the festival

In years gone by the likes of Kribensis could easily alternate between flat racing and picking up quality handicaps at The Festival. With a longer flat season and more opportunities on the All Weather, those top-quality dual-purpose types tend not to turn up at the festival. If anything, the opposite happens more with decent jumps horses plundering flat handicaps.

Sir Erec though can turn the tide for the flat brigade. His flat form is exceptional, and were he to turn up in a Gold Cup at Ascot he would look far from out of place, given how close he finished to Superstar stayer Stradivarius last season. Sir Erec is favourite for the Triumph hurdle on Friday.

He is unique in that he is still an entire, rather than a gelding like most jumps horses. He has an outstanding chance of being both an exceptional Flat and National Hunt horse and potentially stallion.

Mark Walsh onboard Sir Erec  comes home to win Mark Walsh onboard Sir Erec comes home to win at Leopardstown. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Follow horses that have run after Christmas

At the 2018 festival, 19 of the 28 winners had run in the previous seven weeks. The Dublin Racing festival was a key prep with eight of the seventeen Irish winners having run there. This season will be different; the fields at Leopardstown were decimated due to the fast ground.

There was the enforced flu break in the UK. Many big trainers were waiting so long for the rain to fall they missed key prep runs. Basically this year, to find winners we will need to look a bit further back and a shade deeper as that combination of factors probably diluted key trials. Many established trends will be borderline redundant.

Follow stables in form

The hot trainers page is one punters flock to in the Racing Post every day. A stable with plenty of runners going well is a huge boon, and you can wade in accordingly. In the run-up to the Festival, the opposite is almost the case.

The big stables almost shut down, with all the focus on Cheltenham. Willie Mullins has only run four horses since February while the only horse he has entered over the next couple of days are in maiden hurdles and in bumpers. The focus on the festival makes the weeks preceding it almost an irrelevance.

So Willie has hardly had a runner, Paul Nicholls has had 12 runners in the first five days of March, six of them won. But Nicholls has only had three winners at the last two festivals, Willie Mullins has had 13.

Follow Willie with the fillies

There have been 14 races run at the Festival confined to mares. Willie Mullins has won 12. Even when red-hot favourite Annie Power fell at the last in 2015 he picked up the pieces with Glens Melody.

This is one myth that will definitely not be busted. Benie des Dieux is widely acknowledged to be the stable nap of the meeting and in the Mares’ Novice, The Master of Closutton is well represented with Sancta Simona, Salsaretta and My Sister Sarah. The only trend that will change here is the race won’t be won by a horse with a name beginning with the letter L, like Laurina, Let’s Dance and Limini!


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Thom Malone

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