Thursday 23 November 2017

Pedigree counts in identifying Festival winners

It can pay to follow sires with a proven track record at Cheltenham, writes Ian McClean

Ian McClean

It was a remark by Tony Mullins at a pre-Cheltenham evening in 2003 that got me first to thinking about pedigree in the context of Cheltenham. Asked about the chances of Champion Hurdle favourite Rhinestone Cowboy, he drew much mirth from the audience when he labelled the progeny of Be My Native "hill detectors", and purely on that basis dismissed the hopes of one of the Festival's bankers.

That Rhinestone Cowboy came under pressure early and plugged on to finish only a remote and never-threatening 14 lengths third to Rooster Booster soon became a fact of history. Further evidence suggests that whatever qualities the prolific sire endowed to his often talented offspring, the love of Cheltenham (or hills for that matter) was never one of them.

There are many lenses through which Cheltenham's leading contenders will be scrutinised during the current lead-in -- from form to ground conditions to speed figures to 10-year trends to tea-leaves -- but very little will be written about pedigree.

And as we started with a Mullins and the Champion Hurdle: how relevant is it to the chances of Hurricane Fly that Montjeu has never bred a winner from 44 runners at Cheltenham?

I'm sure Coolmore aren't losing sleep about a stallion that has already produced the likes of Hurricane Run, Authorized, Fame And Glory and Motivator but a glaring omission on his CV remains a Cheltenham first.

A high-profile (if isolated) example of a Montjeu Cheltenham failure is the fate of Mountain.

Rated 112 on the Flat with Aidan O'Brien, he won his novice hurdle in February at Sandown for Jonjo O'Neill and started just 8/1 in a field of 23 for the 2007 Triumph Hurdle only to pull up.

The other prominent Montjeu son at this year's Festival is Jewson favourite Noble Prince. Both Noble Prince and Hurricane Fly unsurprisingly have in common a devastating turn of foot but will that asset really be tailored to Prestbury Park?

By contrast, another son of Sadler's Wells, King's Theatre, seems to be in love with the Cotswold air. He boasts a 19 per cent (4/21) win-to-run ratio during the last five festivals aided by Menorah and Cue Card hitting the target last year. With both appearing again this year, King's Theatre's record could be further enhanced. In addition, Riverside Theatre, Captain Chris and The Minack are just a few more that could easily add to the tally.

Flemensfirth's big moment came with Imperial Commander's Gold Cup win and while his Festival win-to-run ratio is 14 per cent, his top-three strike rate is an impressive 36 per cent (13/36).

Tidal Bay's Cheltenham record is a galloping advertisement for the sire and the fact that he has high-profile RSA favourite Time For Rupert as another leading representative this time round can only offer encouragement. Furthermore, as all three aforementioned staying chasers have already demonstrated their aptitude for the uniqueness of Cheltenham, it can only offer encouragement to supporters of Pandorama which will be making his debut there.

Presenting is interesting as a sire in the Cheltenham context. As a proven influence for stamina whose progeny tend to excel over fences rather than hurdles (sire of Denman and War Of Attrition), he has recorded six winners from 40 runners (15 per cent) over the larger obstacles during the last five Festivals. However, all six winners came over three miles or further (contested by only 19 runners) -- so the strike rate over that distance increased to 32 per cent-- whilst a further four of the 19 challengers finished placed, increasing the win-or-place ratio to 10/19 or 53 per cent. This all augurs well for Jessie's Dream which is stepping up in trip to three miles for the first time, but doesn't bode well for Woolcombe Folly (two-mile Champion Chase) which coincidentally suffered his only defeat over fences over course and distance last year.

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