Key Stats and Trends:
- 6-year-olds have won 4 of the last 5 renewals
- There have been 17 running’s of this race, the current score is GB 9-8 IRE
- Only 1 of the last 10 SP Favourites has won
- The handicapper has allotted the last 5 winners an average rating of 151
- The last 5 winners have made an average of 4 starts over hurdles before winning this
- The last 4 winners came from the Point-to-Point sphere
Finding the Winner:
This race perhaps doesn’t get the credit that it deserves. Prior to 2021, there were 12 horses who had filled the places in the previous 4 runnings and 7 of those went on to place in the following year’s festival (Penhill, Wholestone, Monalee, Santini, Allaho, Minella Indo, Monkfish). It’s a race for the tracker, but that doesn’t make it an easier to try and predict. There have been at least 15 runners in each of the last 5 renewals and the winners have returned an average premium of £42.84 on the Tote. To give an indication of how difficult this is, the future Gold Cup winner Minella Indo was returned a £129.50 winner on the Tote when he landed this in 2019. Only 1 of the last 10 favourites has obliged (At Fishers Cross 2013) and only 2 of those 10 runners had run at Cheltenham before. It’s a tough ask.
There was once an accepted theory that you needed a horse with plenty of experience over hurdles to win this, but the last 4 winners have made 4,2,3 and 4 starts respectively before they went on to win at Cheltenham. They have come from 5 different prep races and 4 different trainers, though the strength of the race has been increased in recent years when the Ballymore has appeared to be the hottest race at the festival. Envoi Allen won that race in 2020 and his presence in the intermediate race probably led to the best Albert Bartlett in recent years, with a thrilling finish between Monkfish, Latest Exhibition, Fury Road and Thyme Hill. The Ballymore looks fairly open this year and so the Bartlett is likely to revert to its more traditional guise, with the dour stayers coming to the fore. It is perhaps no surprise that Point-to-Point recruits have fared well, winning the last 4 renewals and so that could open the race up to the likes of Minella Crooner, Gerri Colombe, Hollow Games and Minella Cocooner.
It’s very difficult to find the winner of this race and it can be just as difficult to find a horse to hit the frame. The place returns on winners like Minella Indo (£21.40) and Kilbricken Storm (£10.40) show how hard it can be to find an each-way return. The big Irish yards have begun to pay more attention to this race in recent seasons, Willie Mullins has had 3 horses in the first 3 in the last 5 seasons, Henry De Bromhead had 2 in that time and so did Gordon Elliott. In the early years of this race, horses ran here simply because they were deemed too slow to race elsewhere, but that trend has changed in recent seasons and the future results of the horses who compete in the finish of this race shows that it is now being recognized as a Grade 1 target in its own right. That makes the horses entered by the bigger yards of much more interest and in the last 5 years only Streets of Doyen (John McConnell) has made the frame from a yard outside the top 10 in the UK or Ireland.
In a race that has proven very hard to work out, it will come as no surprise that the Exacta and Trifecta have been very rewarding to those lucky enough to find the right combinations. If we had the benefit of Hindsight, 2019 could have been a bumper year. Minella Indo led home the favourite Commander of Fleet and Allaho. The 3 biggest yards in Ireland with a 1,2,3 in a Festival Grade 1, that yielded a Trifecta of £9,934.80 to a £1 stake. An incredible return given what the winner and 3rd have achieved since, but it does show that the class will rise to the top on occasion. Even the 2020 race, where the top 4 in the betting dominated the race from start to finish, returned a healthy £104.80. Until we are certain which horses will run here and not in the Ballymore, we cannot be certain how to play this but a glance at the probable runners would suggest that this is likely to be an above average year. With that in mind, the exotics could still offer a solid return if permed correctly as the classier types rise to the top in the closing stages.