Kevin Blake on the Cheltenham Festival: How to reap the benefits of Clever Cookie Syndrome

Jumps racehorse Fakir D’Oudairies.
Will the price of Fakir D’Oudairies crash ahead of the Arkle Chase?

Kevin Blake explains the theory behind 'Clever Cookie Syndrome' and how we can use it to our advantage at Cheltenham...

"The Syndrome manifests itself by convincing people that because the ground has gone testing, they must latch onto horses that are proven on testing ground, even if they have significant improvement to find on the book."

Back in October, a phenomenon occasionally seen on high-profile occasions in horse racing was labelled in this space as 'Clever Cookie Syndrome'.

To briefly recap for those that may have missed it at the time, here's a reminder as to what it entails.

Clever Cookie Syndrome explained

There can often be outbreaks of Clever Cookie Syndrome whenever heavy rain arrives prior to a high-profile meeting that leads to the ground becoming testing and one of the main ramifications of it, is lighter pockets for punters afflicted by it.

The Syndrome manifests itself by convincing people that because the ground has gone testing, they must latch onto horses that are proven on testing ground, even if they have significant improvement to find on the book. This can result in some horses being sent off at truly awful prices that bear no relation to the formbook.

This condition is named after an admirable gelding called Clever Cookie that was sent off at 4/1 for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot in 2015. Clever Cookie is a smashing horse and he sure does love testing ground, but his form before and after that fateful day suggested that he was a 113 horse at his very best. He duly ran a noble race in the King George, but finished a well-beaten fifth.

What this could mean at Cheltenham

The reason I bring this back up now is that there is every chance we will see some nasty outbreaks of it at the Cheltenham Festival next week. While there is still some uncertainty as to what the ground will be like at the beginning of the meeting, having spoken to people that have been walking the track in the last 24-hours and looking at the most recent weather forecasts, it seems highly likely that the ground will be at least soft and possibly even heavy on Tuesday.

For reasons discussed in this space last week, there seems to be general reluctance for large sections of the racing public to take in this information and the potentially significant ramifications of it. Indeed, it was only when Gordon Elliott very clearly spelled out the situation with Envoi Allen's potential switch to the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Betfair Cheltenham Preview last night, that the markets really reacted to a distinct possibility that had been put forward in this space and others over a week ago. Watch the replay of the preview night here:

While that particular bird may have flown in terms of value, there is still plenty of scope to get ahead of a market that is slow to react to the increasing likelihood of testing ground at the Cheltenham Festival. Rather than focusing on potential switches of targets as this space did last week, this time the focus is on trying to identify those horses that could well become the subject of "Clever Cookie Syndrome" in the coming days.

Those that can identify horses that will be over-bet due to their liking of testing ground, before the bulk of public start getting involved, could well find themselves to be in a great trading position come the start of the festivities.

The Clever Cookie Syndrome contenders

In chronological terms, the first one that could well see CCS manifest itself in his price is Fakir D'Oudairies in the Arkle Trophy. The five-year-old has long been considered to be best suited by a testing surface and while there was already a case to be made for him potentially reversing form with the ante-post favourite Notebook as it was, that case would become significantly stronger on more testing ground. He has already started to shorten in price and he can be expected to continue to do so.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase is without doubt one of the races of the week and, barring A Plus Tard is switched into it, it has all the looks of a three-horse war at the head of the market. While not much has separated the top three in recent weeks, the possibility of testing ground could well see them sorted out. Such a surface would be perceived as a negative for Altior and he would seem very likely to drift in those circumstances.

Handwriting for KB preview.png

The one that would most likely pick up the slack in the market is Defi Du Seuil, as he has no issues with such ground or the stamina test it will present at the trip. He would be highly likely to shorten from his current price of 9/4 into clear favouritism.

Looking ahead to later in the week, the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle is already a race where historically it has been an advantage to have plenty of experience for what is often a really attritional test of stamina. If the ground is still testing come Friday, one can be sure that an awful lot of people will side with the David Pipe-trained Ramses De Teillee.

The eight-year-old is well established as a strong-staying, mud-loving chaser that has been in great form since reverting to hurdles in recent starts. He has a profile that is sure to be popular in the event of testing ground and the 12.011/1 available about at the time of writing is likely to be significantly shorter if such conditions prevail on the day.

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