Cheltenham Festival Focus: 20/1 looks a good bet after New Years Day

Funambule Sivola chases home the 162 rated First Flow.

It's week ten of Daryl Carter's Cheltenham Festival Focus. This week he examines Constitution Hill's spectacular Grade 1 Tolworth victory and has a 20/1 shot for the Grand Annual...

"He has already proven he can go well off big weights, his most recent run a good example, and he could be worthy of a rating of 160, given the balance of his form makes him look much more than just a handicapper."

There was very little for us to pick up on this week other than the excellent racing at Naas last Sunday and yesterday's Tolworth Hurdle action, where our Supreme Novice Hurdle selection Constitution Hill forged his way to the top of the market.

We re-wind back to Naas on Sunday first, which proved to be an informative card but perhaps not for all the right reasons.

Mares Chase division wide open

In the opening contest on the card, the Mares' Beginners Chase saw Jeremy's Flame 15/8 score by eight widening lengths over Dolcita in a very easy fashion. The mare rated 136 was making her seventh start over fences and had previously looked to be approaching the exposed end of the spectrum.

This was her first victory since 2019. While she was entitled to get her head in front after bumping into Concertista, Riviere D'etel and Mount Ida in three of her five completed starts, it doesn't bode well for those, including the unexposed Roseys Hollow 5/4f, that finished behind her.

The time figure of the race was, in all honesty, poor, and her 16/1 for the Mares Chase is easily left alone.

Blue Lord 1280 x 853.png

Blue Lord made it back to back wins over fences with a dominant success over Lifetime Ambition and Dancing On My Own, who are rated 125 and 136, respectively, over hurdles.

The trio only jumped six of the ten fences due to four omitted, and he would have been seen to better effect had those been in play.

He jumps well, and he has the back class over hurdles to be a force in this sphere (would have finished a clear second in the Supreme) but he is yet to show any attributes of one being top-class. He may be just very good rather than extraordinary, and he will undoubtedly be there should stablemate Ferny Hollow fail to deliver on the day. His 5/1 Arkle quotes are warranted, and with improvement likely, backing him each way wouldn't be a bad idea, and he is not one to underestimate.

Ginto wins hot Lawlor's Of Naas but still doesn't excite

The Lawlors Of Naas is usually a very good pointer for Cheltenham Festival winners over the years, including the last two for which Bob Olinger and Envoi Allen won before going onto Ballymore success.

However, this race didn't give me the same feel as when those two won. Ginto was a worthy winner, but he shaped to the right at a couple of his hurdles and seemingly took an age to get going.

He doesn't scream Ballymore winner to me, and although his 8/1 price tag is warranted, he looks more of an Albert Bartlett type for which he is the same price.

In all honesty, the race left me a little deflated, and while the race looked good on paper beforehand, I can't help but feel we saw a clutch of good horses rather than excellent ones. Time may well prove me wrong, but nothing made me leap to the ante-post markets after they crossed the line.

We are still looking for a standout Ballymore candidate, I'm afraid.

Supremely superior Constitution Hill

Constitution Hill 1280 x 851.png

Constitution Hill ran out a devastating winner of the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday in desperate conditions to solidify his place at the top of the Supreme Novice Hurdle market, for which his price was cut into 9/4 on the Betfair Sportsbook.

Let's break it down step by step.

Consitution Hill had previously been just as impressive on hurdle debut at the same venue when a ready winner by 14 lengths over Might I on a surface described as good to soft. Saturday's ground was described as heavy and would prove a completely different test to his debut.

Still, he proved ground conditions are of little relevance to him as he motored through a well-run race on the deteriorating ground. That's one less worry when it comes to March.

The visuals

If you were a backer of Consitution Hill at short odds on Saturday, there was little moment of worry even though jockey Nico de Boinville took the inside route on the worse of the ground and finished up the far side rail on the slowest part of the track. Nico always looked comfortable and in control, and Constitution Hill's jumping improved throughout the race, looking like a polished model despite this only his second start over hurdles.

The form

Constitution Hill Sandown 1280 x 820.png

Plenty of people have been quick to knock the form of this race, and while admittedly it wasn't the deepest Grade 1, it's unlikely any Novice in Britain would have given this horse a race on Saturday in these conditions.

Plenty of judges (myself included) fancied Gary Moore's Shallwehaveonemore to come off second best to the new Supreme Novice Hurdle favourite and after impressing at Kempton and Ascot on his two previous starts - recording good figures in the process. He was well-positioned to capitalise on the strong pace of the race and looked threatening for a nanosecond before being firmly put in his place approaching the second last flight.

The eventual runner-up Jetoile had previously won well in a Novice Hurdle at Leicester in a good time figure despite running on the unfavoured part of the track. He was rated 125 and proven on soft ground but not up to Grade 1 level on this performance. However, it bodes well for the winner to beat him a very comfortable 12 lengths.

Mr Glass rated 129, hadn't seen defeat since his debut, and was arriving on the back of a four-timer and was proven in heavy ground with a 2m bumper win at Wetherby. Still, his latest hurdle win came over 2m6f, and it was strange to see him entered in this contest with connections likely rolling the dice with the foreseen testing conditions - he was readily outpaced.

Datsalrightgino's Cheltenham win had been significantly over-rated, and although the post-race reports suggested he wasn't travelling, it's more like he was out-classed and unable to sustain the higher tempo in this contest.

Overall the form can be knocked, to play devil's advocate, but such is the poor quality of the Novice Hurdlers in Britain - yet again. Constitution Hill should not be held responsible for the miss coming of others. He was run out an excellent winner by 12 (eased down) lengths to back up his debut performance win of 14 lengths.

With the lack of depth to the form, we turn to the clock.

The clock

The first thing to note was that Sandown's ground deteriorated throughout the day. According to the times of all four races on the hurdle track, the ground was much deeper than any of the ten previous years.

Here is how all four hurdle races compared.

Sandown Figures Constitution hill.png

It's no surprise to see the opening 12:05 Juvenile contest won by Moulins Clermont fair well on the figures. This was the first race on the hurdle track and had fresh ground.

Constitution Hill was still faster, though, and quicker than any other on the card at Sandown on Saturday, no matter where you time the contest.

However, the most impressive part was his two-out to finish time, where he recorded a time figure 9.72 lengths faster than Hydroplane (won off 121) despite carrying 19 pounds more on his back and running a 34.88 length faster circuit time. However, we must take into account the deteriorating ground conditions.

Constitution Hill's two-out to finish time was 19.72 lengths faster than the 144 rated Martello Sky (ran over 2m4f), and he was eased down in the final 100 yards.

It was quite an impressive performance on the clock as you can gather, and with the form complicated to weigh up - not just because of the lack of quality in behind but the conditions also - it must go down as an excellent performance.

What rating has Constitution Hill achieved?

It's hard to nail down a number, and it's always wise to try and use a level head and underrate performances in these conditions when trying to apply a figure.

The most solid comparison looks to be the middle ground between Martello Sky (whose weight allowance is built into her 144 rating so effectively 137), who won over four furlongs further, and Hydroplayne, the handicap winner off 121.

Martello Sky 1280 x 869.png

Constitution Hill bettered Martello Sky's circuit time performance by six seconds or 24 lengths. Still, he would have to give her seven instead of the four pounds he theoretically does on this occasion, so allowing for that at one pound per length, it's more like 21 lengths. To calculate the extra four furlongs that Martello Sky ran is a little more complicated and less accurate.

Martello Sky ran her first four furlongs in 1.45.25 secs or 16.25 secs per furlong. Still, she averaged 16.79, so allowing for the difference between the two suggests she is worth upgrading another 8.64 lengths (half a length a furlong on her opening four) on her two-mile overall time, which I recorded at 4.31.90 - Constitution Hill's was 4.22.90.

Using the four lengths per-second method is 2.16 secs, plus the extra three pounds she would have received for her mares' allowance (one pound per length) gives us an overall rough time figure of 4.26.30. This and some other small calculations suggest, roughly, I might add, that Constitution Hill would have beaten her by a similar distance to that of the runner-up Jetoile 12 (13) lengths - this wasn't Martello Sky at her best.

Jetoile looks ahead of the handicapper off his current rating of 125 on this theoretical evidence, and only time will tell if that's true.

Martello Sky did win a Cheltenham handicap on her previous start off a mark of 140 (by a neck), so as mentioned above, it wasn't her best run and being cautious, it may pay to use the rating of 140 for Martello Sky to determine Constitution Hill's rating, rather than her actual 144.

Hydroplane, in turn, won off a handicap mark of 121, carried 19lbs less than Constitution Hill and was 34.88 lengths slower. Even just the weight conversion here would give Constitution Hill a rating of 140, let alone the distance conversion of 34.88 lengths which should not be taken seriously given the ground condition differential. Hydroplane is at least a consistent and improving handicapper with a flat rating of 78 (third in the Chester Vase).

Jonbon 1280 x 820.png

The overall look of this performance suggests that Constitution Hill has run to a figure of 150 plus, something no other runner in the Supreme Novice Hurdle ante-post betting has achieved yet - yes, including Jonbon.

The deep Sandown surface was unlikely a plus to him either, and a switch to better ground will be beneficial, as will going left-handed given his dominance on his left lead.

He is one we are certainly able to get excited about, and given he has achieved, in my book, much more than any other Supreme Novice Hurdle candidate at this point, I am delighted with our position at 6/1 on him.

20/1 looks a juicy price for class act sivola

Funambule Sivola running 1240 x 860.png

This week, we aim for the Grand Annual Handicap Chase with Funambule Sivola for Venetia Williams. He was a big eye-catcher at Cheltenham on New Years Day in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase over 2m4f when tenderly handled after the final flight by rider Charlie Deutsch.

Funambule Sivola was highly progressive last term, climbing the handicap ratings from a mark of 112 to 141 before heading into graded company.

The now seven-year-old rounded out last season with a runner-up effort behind the outstanding Shishkin in the Grade 1 Doom Bar Novices Chase at Aintree when beaten just three lengths.

Two runs this season had seen connections try 2m4f, first when an excellent second behind the 162 rated First Flow in the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, before his latest effort at Cheltenham, which was his first at the course.

This horse is an out and out two-miler. Fast, low and economical over his fences and a blistering turn of foot. He was rated as high as 156 before his two runs this season, and after being turned away by Shishkin, that must have left connections pondering which way to go with him - hense the step up in trip.

Plate a possibility but an Irish runner eyed up for that

It could be that connections believe he will get the 2m4f trip, and on the evidence of his latest handicap run off 155, that's quite possibly true should he get some good ground in March. That would mean the Paddy Power Plate as the option, a race which Venetia Williams has won three times previously, but it would be weather permitting, given he is not the strongest stayer over that distance.

Surely the most favourable option would be the Grand Annual, a speedily run two miles would suit him perfectly and Venetia Williams has won this race in the past.

He has already proven he can go well off big weights, his most recent run a good example, and he could be worthy of a rating of 160, given the balance of his form makes him look much more than just a handicapper.

He currently has a rating of 152 and is entered in the Grade 1 Clarence House at Ascot, which would be ideal if he were to be beaten a fair way out to be dropped another one or two pounds for this.

That would give him around a 50-day break before the Cheltenham Festival - 9/12 have run 92 days prior.

Last years winner Sky Pirate was successful with a handicap mark of 152, and five of the last eight winners of the Grand Annual were rated 147 plus.

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