The 2021 Cheltenham Festival was dominated by horses trained in Ireland. But, along with subscribers to my VG Tips service, I went three better than last year when tipping 10 winners.
It all began on Tuesday with 4 winners.
APPRECIATE IT, tipped when 5/4 in the betting market, won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle by a whopping 24 lengths. It’s always nice to start the festival with a winner and even nicer to know you’ll be in the money long before the winning post.
SHISHKIN was another comfortable winner, so making it two winners from two tips and the festival was less than an hour old. Shiskin won the Arkle by 12 lengths and was value for the odds of 1/2 on offer the day before racing.
Tuesday just kept getting better and better. The Grade 3 Ultima handicap saw me offer options to members. Happygolucky for the win only punters and the ever gallant grey called VINTAGE CLOUDS for fellow each way backers.
Here’s part of my write up to members regarding Vintage Clouds: “I’ve long had a soft spot for Vintage Clouds, trained by my one time near neighbour, Sue Smith. He’s 11 years of age now so his very best days are likely behind him. Three of his five career victories have come at Haydock Park. He’s yet to win at Cheltenham but was a close second in this race in 2019 and from a slightly higher handicap mark than is the case this year. The race was run on soft ground that year and Vintage Clouds does appear to prefer some cut in the ground. The “deluge” of rain that fell unexpectedly last night is good news for Sue Smith and her Vintage Clouds. The horse is tumbling down the weights and the handicap mark is back down to his last winning mark when beating Defintly Red by seven lengths at Haydock.”
Vintage Clouds won for members of VG Tips at odds of 28/1.
Vintage Clouds was in the front two from the start of the race and just kept on jumping beautifully throughout. I still thought a place would be the best I could hope for, which would have been fine by me. But the 11 year old kept extending his lead and ensured that Happygolucky, the eventual runner up, could not catch him.
Regular VG Tips subscriber Scott e-mailed me to say: “Vern, great festival! Really enjoyed your write ups & with great success. Vintage Clouds got me off to a right flyer! One of the best, successful Cheltenham festivals for me for a few years.”
Vintage Clouds a 28/1 winning tip for members of VG Tips in the hands of jockey Ryan Mania
It was four wins from the first four races on day one when Rachael Blackmore rode her first of six winners at the festival. I was especially pleased that my ante-post and on the day selection, HONEYSUCKLE, proved just how good she is when winning the feature race of the first day, the Champion Hurdle. It was an excellent ride by the jockey and a superb performance by the mare. She won in fine fashion and by six and a half lengths from my 11/1 each way option, Sharjah. On February 9th Honeysuckle was my 5/2 ante-post tip to members, and again the day before racing when priced 2/1.
There was a near miss in the Grade 1 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle when my win only tip Concertista was caught at the post by a former winner for us, Black Tears – who I really should have made my each way selection. After all, in my post 2020 Cheltenham Festival review, I made the 11/1 winner one of my ‘ones to watch out for’ this year. Black Tears beat Concertista by a head in a gripping finish and all credit to jockey Jack Kennedy for timing his delivery of Black Tears to perfection.
English trainer Paul Nicholls would have a festival to forget but my each way double on day one delivered profit when his horses Houx Gris and Next Destination each got placed.
Day two got off to a winning start when my BOB OLINGER, a 15/8 NAP the day before racing, won the Ballymore Novices Hurdle by a whopping seven and a half lengths in the hands of the Queen of Cheltenham, Rachael Blckmore.
One to take out of that race for the future was Bear Ghylls. Stepping up big style in class, it was a very creditable performance from a gelding that had won all his previous four races. Bear Ghylls went second at one point in the race and a serious challenge looked likely before he made a jumping mistake four fences from home and then clouted the obstacle after that. He finished fourth, just half a length behind third placed Bravemansgame. Keep Bear Ghylls in your notebook or tracker.
The next and sixth winner was classed as one of the bankers of the festival. MONKFISH wasn’t foot perfect when jumping his fences in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase but demolished the field nonetheless. A 5/6 ante-post tip to members in February, Monkish won by six and a half lengths and may well be a contender for the 2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
PUT THE KETTLE ON was a 10/1 each way option for the Grade 1 Queen Mother Champion Chase. As was a horse I had tipped ante-post months before the festival, Nube Negra, also at 10/1. That was for those who didn’t fancy backing the fav, Chacun Pour Soi, at odds on. Chacun Pour Soi was racing at Cheltenham for the first time and tired late coming up that testing hill. My two each way picks finished first and second. Put the Kettle On just holding of the late challenge from Nube Negra. Not for the first time in the week, I was wishing I had placed a reverse forecast bet. I was very pleased that Nube Negra ran so well and may well have won but for a jumping error late on. For too long I have heard people be dismissive of this horse because he once won a race on the flat in Spain. Clearly those people do not watch weekend racing from Madrid, which can be of good quality.
As for the winner, here’s what I said in my day before racing preview to subscribers to VG Tips: “As I am always keen to express how important it is to have prior form at Cheltenham, I must mention that the Henry de Bromhead trained Put the Kettle On is three wins from three outings at this racecourse. Put the Kettle On carrying just 11 stone 3 and with that good record at this course, she’s my favoured each way bet.”
The final race to be selected on day two was the Champion Bumper and I did say that this would be between two horses trained by Willie Mullins. Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit. I opted for the latter, just. But the Rachael Blackmore ridden Sir Gerhard beat Kilcruit into second by half a length. It was a clever, tactical ride by Blackmore but I suspect Paul Townend on Kilcruit was kicking himself for giving the stablemate too much of a lead.
Ian has been an annual subscriber for several years, one of the longest serving members of VG Tips, he messaged me: “Super Festival Vern. Many thanks for all your hard work. Hope the Guinness went down smoothly, you certainly deserved it.”
So I went into day three with seven winners, the same number as my total in 2020. But the day of racing began with a shock. Envoi Allen fell to earth for the first time. Considered months ahead by many, including me, to be the banker bet of the week, Envoi Allen did not look at ease from the off and the usually sound jumper who had won all his previous twelve races, fell at the fourth fence. That was the betting upset of the week and bookies breathed a sigh of relief.
The Ryanair Chase was considered by all to be the most wide open race of the week and 11 year old Min was one of five of the field of ten to be pulled up. Clearly the race was too testing for some. A horse I had in my notebook earlier in the season, but left alone this day, won by 12 lengths. That was the Rachael Blackmore ridden Allaho. It was a superb performance from a horse I had wrongly given up on after he lost twice for me in December. My 7/1 ante-post each way tip for the race, Fakir D’oudairies, finished second.
I drew a blank in the Stayers’ Hurdle. Lisnagar Oscar fell and in doing so impeded my other each way pick, Fury Road, who had been going well at the time. The former winner of the race, Paisley Park, was his usual determined self coming up the Cheltenham hill but third behind winner Flooring Porter was the best that one could do.
One of the best forward planning bets was THE SHUNTER. On March 8th I told members to back this one to win a race at Kelso and to also back him at the festival regardless of which race he was entered for. His very shrewd trainer, Emmett Mullins, had plotted this course since January. The horse that won at Kelso would stand to win a bonus prize of £100.000 for winning any race at the Cheltenham Festival. Owner Paul Byrne and Mullins decided to switch The Shunter from hurdles back to fences and my 9/2 win only tip won the Paddy Power Plate Handicap by three lengths. Plot and bet landed.
The next winner was TELMESOMETHINGGIRL. An 8/1 each way selection, she won the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle by more than five lengths.
My tenth and final winner at the festival came in the final race on Thursday and was the most extraordinary ride of the week. MOUNT IDA was at the back of the field for so long, detached from the others, and looking disinterested in racing. Nobody would have blamed jockey Jack Kennedy had he pulled up the mare. But he kept going and encouraged Mount Ida to get involved in the race. Incredibly, she raced on to win by six and a half lengths. My second each way pick for the Kim Muir Handicap was Shantou Flyer at odds of 9/1. That one returned placed profit in third.
I hadn’t expected too much on Thursday so was happy with three winners and two each way placed horses from six races selected on the day. But we all knew Friday would be tough.
And so it proved. I only took on four races on Friday but could not find a winner on the final day. I had to choose between three former winners for us when it came to the first race on the day, the Triumph Hurdle. Tritonic, Quilixios and Zanahiyr. In truth my only decision was between the last two. I picked the wrong one. Quilixios won very nicely and it was another tactical ride by Rachael Blackmore. Qulixios was fine coming up the hill but Zanahiyr didn’t handle it and finished fourth. But anyone who backed Tritonic may not be rushing to do so again. That UK trained contender was beaten by a little under 16 lengths.
A Plus Tard, a 7/1 ante-post tip, returned a little profit in the feature race on Friday, the Gold Cup. Well backed in the week running up to the race, A Plus Tard was ridden by Rachael Blackmore. She chose to ride that horse currently trained by her boss Henry de Bromhead. She had previously ridden Minella Indo in his ten previous races. But she chose A Plus Tard for the big one. She finished second behind the winner… Minella Indo. There’s an action shot of Jack Kennedy celebrating winning the Gold Cup on Minella Indo and behind him you can see Rachael hanging her head on the runner up. She must have been cursing herself for getting off Minella Indo. She could have been the first female jockey to win the Gold Cup. But she was the winning most jockey of the week with six triumphant rides. She was, as the likes of Ruby Walsh was keen to repeat, the best jockey of the week and is, to his mind, the best jockey riding over obstacles right now.
Months ago I tipped Native River as a 14/1 each way ante-post tip for the Gold Cup. Bookies were returning each way bets about the first four horses past the post and Native River, which won the race back in 2018, crossed the line in fourth. Overtaking the ever gutsy Frodon in the latter stages of the tiring race.
My final selection of the meeting was the lovely little grey called Elimay. I so wanted her to win the Grade 2 Mares’ Chase but warned members that it would be between her and stablemate Colreevy. So it proved. They led the field for most of the race and took each other on in an exciting finish. But Colreevy came out on top by half a length. My 6/1 each way tip, Shattered Love, finished third ensuring any stake was returned along with a little profit.
10 winners and six each way selections that were placed and returned profit. That was the Cheltenham Festival of 2021 at VG Tips.
Bookies exacted revenge on punters on the final day. Punters had the most fun on the first two days. I was delighted with finding ten winners from a total of 22 races selected across four days. Three more than in 2020 equalled very pleasing returns. I’m especially pleased to hear back from happy, loyal members of VG Tips.
It’s good when all the many hours of form study and hard work are rewarded. I had fewer regrets this year compared to last. Only Black Tears was the one that got away in the sense that I should have listened to my own advice from a year ago and backed that one each way.
And as I write on Saturday, my excellent record in picking winners of Grand Nationals has been maintained. 10/3 tip TIME TO GET UP winning the so called Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter and my two each way picks in the race, Final Nudge and Screaming Colours, each being placed at odds of 14/1 and 7/1 respectively.
Long serving subscriber Toni e-mailed on Saturday to say: “That was a great week of tipping. And then today as well. Well done.”