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Cheltenham Tipping: Big-race trends: Festival form gives Back In Fr ont Champion verdict.

Byline: Craig Thake

3.00 Smurfit Champion Hurdle Key trends l Adjusted Racing Post Rating of at least 154, ten winners in last ten runnings l Aged between six and nine, 10/10 l Won last time out, 9/10 (exception beaten a short-head on prep-run) l Had won either a Grade 1 hurdle or a Grade 3 handicap hurdle, 9/10 l Started no bigger than 10-1, 9/10 Ran at least nine times over hurdles, 9/10 l Ran previously at the Festival, 8/10 (six had won, one was fourth and one seventh) l Won a Grade 1 or 2 hurdle that season, 8/10 l Rated within 14lb of RPR toprated, 8/10 l Course winner, 7/10 Other factors Only two winners could cite an unplaced effort in their form figures for that season.

The last five-year-old to win was See You Then in 1985 (66 have failed since).

Record of Irish-trained runners is four wins and five places from 40 runners.

Record of those wearing headgear is 1-1-5.

Fate of the reigning champion is 72P11PR2.

Record of the winners of the Irish Champion Hurdle 1911104; Christmas Hurdle 6653453; Bula Hurdle 2P9S18 Verdict Hardy Eustace must go close to following up, but he lacks the class of previous back-to back winners, and may have to settle for a place. Festival form is almost essential, so Brave Inca and Back In Front, look the best qualified with preference for the Eddie O'Grady runner, as previous season novices don't have the best of records.

2.00 Letheby & Christopher Supreme Novices' Hurdle Key trends l Adjusted RPR of at least 137, 8/10 l Won last time out, 8/10 l Won at least 50 per cent of hurdle starts, 8/10 l P reviously contested a Graded race, 7/10 (three won, four placing) l Aged six and over, 7/10 l Rated within 12lb of RPR toprated, 7/10 Other factors This is the best race at the Festival for the Irish - their record in last ten years reads 6-6-56.

Six winners started their career in bumpers, and four came from the Flat, where they had earned a RPR between 83 and 115 and had yet to win outside minor novice company.

The last three Irish favourites have all obliged, but previously it was common for the Irish secondstring to come out on top.

The record of horses wearing headgear is 0-1-20.

Only one winner (Back In Front) had previously run at the Festival, finishing third in the bumper.

Verdict This has been the best race of the week for the Irish, and once again they have a strong team. For the last few years the money has been on the right horse, and according the the market Justified is their major flagbearer this year.

Publican, who should be suited by the better ground, is a big threat. 2.35 Irish Independent Arkle Chase Key trends l No more than five runs over fences, 10/10 l Won novice chase over 2m to 2m1f, 10/10 l Finished in the first two on all completed chase starts, 10/10 l SP no bigger than 11-1, 10/10 l Rated with 17lb of RPR toprated, 9/10 l Aged five to seven, 9/10 l Adjusted RPR of 143+, 8/10 l RPR hurdle rating of at least 134, 8/10 (last four were 157 plus) Other factors Only four had previously won a Graded chase (a further two had been placed) Record of Irish runners 3-3-34, and all three winners contested both the Durkan (Denny) Gold Cup and the Leopardstown Arkle (finished first or second or fell).

Three winners had previous ran at the Festival, two had been runners-up in novice hurdles, one sixth in the Champion Hurdle.

All six mares were unplaced. Five French-bred horses have scored, and only once has a French-bred not finished in the top three. Only three German-breds have run but they include a winner and a runner-up.

Record of those wearing headgear, 1-1-5.

Verdict A setback mid-season means War of Attrition has not followed the traditional Irish route. But he is one of the few class hurdlers in the race, who has yet to finish outside the first two over fences, and is proven at the Festival. My Will will be staying on and should ensure another French-bred five-year-old makes the frame.

4.00 William Hill Handicap Chase Key trends l Won over at least three miles, 9/10 l Officially rated 131-150, 9/10 l Carried no more than 11st2lb, 8/10 (two top-weights have won) Aged eight to ten, 8/10 l Top four finish last time out, 8/10 l Finished first or second in either or both its last two starts, 8/10 l Nine to 18 runs over fences, 8/10 l Rated within 9lb of RPR top-rated, 8/10 l Won handicap within last three starts, 7/10 l Ran no more than four times that season, 7/10 Other factors Record of Irish raiders, 1-0-9, and those in headgear 0-2-22 Five winners had run at previous Festival, all recording at least one top four finish.

Only one horses has won from out of the handicap.

Fork Lightning became the first winning novice.

Four winners had been placed in a handicap at Cheltenham earlier in the season.

Six of the last seven winners had not run for at least 31 days.

There has only been one winning favourite in the last 25 years.

Verdict P revious Festival winner Tikram may lack winning form over the trip, but his two runs in Great Yorkshire Chase and the Racing P ost Chase (two traditionally key trials for this event) suggest this is now his distance, and this ideally weighted, rated and experienced runner is the one to beat.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 15, 2005
Words:972
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