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It’s normally at this time of year that we make a few forays into the Ante Post markets for the upcoming Cheltenham Festival. In a move to boost interest in such markets the Bookmakers have moved to offer Non Runner No Bet (NRNB) on the four Championship races plus the Ryanair Chase three or four weeks early. Some of those are the races where the Irish influence is heavy and trying to second guess Trainers like Willie Mullins is a nigh on impossibility. Without the NRNB concession it would be nice, in an ideal world, to have a pretty good idea of the intended target of a horse you want to back early. Unfortunately many Trainers are not in the habit of revealing their hands two months before the event, hence the lack of fluidity in the Ante Post Cheltenham market. However there are some who do and, even if they don’t, they at least drop enough hints to give you a degree of confidence that you will get a run for your money. The ‘big’ Trainers normally command most attention at Cheltenham, and rightly so, but their horses are often under-priced and, with many playing the guessing game, their representatives make even less appeal in the Ante-Post markets. Under-rated Trainers are appealing because their entries are often overlooked with the consequence that they can represent value, even if the horse itself is quite capable of getting the job done.
Even though he is beginning to emerge from the shadows of the bigger yards, and his operation is expanding/improving in quality as he does, Ben Pauling still doesn’t get the credit he fully deserves. His horses often show good attitudes and are hardy battlers, qualities you need in races at big meetings, and it’s not surprising that he has already produced a Cheltenham Festival winner in a relatively fledgling career. His prize money has increased year upon year and this campaign promises to be his best yet with his horses returning a 19% strike rate so far this season (24 from 129 with a further 19 filling second places). Those winners included two Listed Handicap Hurdles, a Listed Novice Hurdle and a Grade 2 Novice Chase, all with different horses. He is straightforward in media interviews and he isn’t slow in nominating potential targets for his inmates. He also has an unnerving belief in his horses and won’t let the odd defeat divert him from his original plan. His Cheltenham team will be well prepared and there are a few who make some appeal at this stage of the season.
A Hare Breath – He may now be into veteran status at ten years old but a near two year absence from the track from Dec. 2103 until Nov. 2015 has seen him restricted to just twelve appearances under rules. He was progressive over hurdles the season before last but after finishing fourth, beaten just over two lengths, in the Greatwood on his reappearance last season he embarked on a Novice Chase campaign. Initial signs were good when he beat the subsequent 145 rated Gala Ball by five lengths with the ill-fated Starchitect a further four and half lengths away in third. He was beaten in a Grade Two four runner Novice Chase on his next start but, not to be deterred, his Trainer allowed him to take his chance in the Arkle at last season’s Festival. Unfortunately his jumping didn’t pass muster and he was well beaten. His heavy defeat at Aintree back over hurdles on his final start of the season three weeks later was probably nothing more than an afterthought. Remaining over hurdles he reappeared in a Listed Handicap at Sandown last month in ground softer than ideal and did well to run down an in-form, fit rival with four lengths back to the third. That has seen him lumbered with a six pound rise to a rating of 145, which may seem stiff for a horse in his latter years, but that performance was his best to date over the smaller obstacles and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he could improve on that this season. He goes very well fresh and his Trainer has stated that it’s likely he will not be seen again until Cheltenham, a move that will protect his mark. He handles soft ground and stays further but he is very well suited to a well run race of around two miles on good or good to soft ground. He has performed very well on all three previous visits to the venue, on both the old and new courses, and the County Hurdle looks tailor-made for him. His handler has intimated as much and we can be fairly confident that’s where he will turn up.
Barters Hill – Unbeaten in four Bumpers he repeated the feat in his first three starts as a Novice Hurdler, including victories at Grade Two and Grade One level. He suffered defeat for the first time when going down by just over four lengths in the Albert Bartlett Novices at last season’s Cheltenham Festival. That came after an interrupted preparation where an injury put his participation in doubt so, taking all things into consideration, it was far from being a disappointment. Earmarked for a Chasing campaign, he unfortunately sustained a season-ending tendon injury on his Chase debut in November 2016. He is going to be kept to hurdles this season and he is reportedly thriving on the home gallops so his Trainer will be keen to get the eight year back competing in big races. He holds an entry in the Stayers Hurdle and it wouldn’t be a surprise were his handler to throw an arrow at a big target but he is currently in possession of a mark of 142 and that must make one of the handicaps a big temptation. He is due to reappear sometime this month and his performance may give an indication of the Trainer’s intention. Other than the Stayers, the Coral Cup looks the likeliest target.
Another Trainer to make a splash, this time in his first season, is Olly Murphy. It may be a bit early in his career for a Festival winner but he has already shown his effectiveness in improving horses so it would be folly to dismiss his chances. Just over two weeks ago he produced Irish import, Hunters Call, to win a highly competitive Grade Three Handicap Hurdle at Ascot on his first start for the yard. That was a very strong race and his performance was better than anything he produced in nine previous attempts over hurdles in his native Ireland. He has incurred a nine pound rise in the weights for that win but his new mark of 137 makes him an attractive proposition for some of the Festival Handicaps. It would’ve enabled him to get into 7 of the last 8 County Hurdles and every one of the Martin Pipe races over the same period. The Coral Cup is also a possibility but it’s a toss of a coin whether his mark will leave him a pound or two below the entry level into that race. He is 2 from 2 when having breaks of three/four months so it’s unlikely he will be seen again before the Festival.
Ante-Post Selections: (Total outlay – 9 pts)
A Hare Breath – 0.75 pts e/w @ 20/1 for the County Hurdle (William Hill, BetVictor)
Barters Hill – 0.5 pts e/w @20/1 for the Stayers Hurdle (NRNB, Skybet, Bet365, Betfred, Totespot.com), 0.75 pts e/w @ 20/1 for the Coral Cup (BetVictor, William Hill)
Hunters Call – 1 pt e/w @ 16/1 for the County Hurdle (Stan James), 0.5 pts e/w @20/1 for the Martin Pipe Condtional’s Hurdle (Betfair)
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Ante Post Advice Part 1
We are almost at the end of November, yet my thoughts towards the Cheltenham festival are forever on my mind as we see out these opening weeks and plenty of horses make their seasonal debuts. Therefore I thought it would be a good time to put my thoughts into writing on some of the graded races that will take place in the hope of grabbing some early value and put us in a position to guarantee profit on the races.
This approach paid huge dividends last year as we found some big priced winners and ended the Festival massively in profit.
Supreme Novices Hurdle
A very open market at this stage with some firms betting 12/1 the field. You can argue that no horse has put forward a credible argument for backing and there are set to be several changes in the coming months. You might think that is a good reason to get involved as if you pick the right one then you are going to have great value. However, we have seen in past seasons that it can prove to be quite a lottery of a race. There is one horse who has shown itself to be potentially the best and classiest novice of the season and that is Samcro. Yes, many will argue that it is unlikely to go for the race and that the 2m 4f or even the 3m Albert Bartlett may be more likely. But, with these novice races sometimes it pays to think outside the box. There is still just under 4 months to go and a lot can change in that time. Other horses can get injured and the race can cut up badly. It wouldn’t take a lot for connections to think more towards the Supreme hurdle and there is no doubting the horse has the speed and the class whilst the way it picked up and quickly pulled clear of the field last time out suggests it will have no problem going the pace of the race. What should also be remembered is that the Supreme holds far more status than the Neptune despite the same prize money and with Gordon Elliott having won the race last year he may well want to regain it with the best novice hurdler he has.
Put it this way, Samcro is a best price 9/4 for the Ballymore (Ex Neptune) so what price would it be here if it was guaranteed to run? 4/1 at a max, if not 3/1 I suspect therefore with 16/1 about it is worth a small investment in the hope that connections lean more towards the 2m.
0.5pt win Samcro @ 16/1 Paddy Power and Betfair
Already promises to be a fascinating race with those at the head of the market all putting in great rounds of jumping to justify their position. However, I still feel the market is underestimating the chances of Petit Mouchoir especially as it is strongly likely to turn up in this all being well whereas the same can’t be said about the favourite. Third in the Champion hurdle last season, it clearly has the pace to be talented in this division and on a line through Brelade then there isn’t much between our selection and Footpad. The latter isn’t guaranteed in the race having finished 3rd in the Stayers last term and so has far more options open to it. Brain Power was arguably the most impressive jumper I have seen this season, giving his fences plenty of air and when asked for a short one popped over really well. However, its best form has always come right handed and of its three worst performances in its career, two have come at Cheltenham whilst the other was at Aintree. Will be a massive danger if turning up for the novice chase at Sandown on Tingle Creek day but it may find it will be better suited to Punchestown in April if the ground isn’t too soft. Barring a disaster or injury, I only see Petit Mouchoir price contracting.
1pt win Petit Mouchoir @ 12/1 Betfair and Paddy Power
Faugheen put in a most impressive display on its comeback after a long absence and any improvement on that will see it very hard to beat. However, now a best price 7/4, I would want 2/1 on its just to make the festival having missed it the last two years. I also believe we will see the horse drift in any case as it is sure to be a serious candidate to bounce if brought out this side of Xmas. To put in a performance recording a RPR of over 170 after well over a year off the track will have a lasting effect on the horse I can guarantee. We are also looking at our first double digit aged winner of the race since Sea Pigeon won it two years in a row at the ages of 10 and 11 in 1980 and 1981! Admittedly Faugheen is lightly raced for its age (14 under rules) and not many 10 year olds have proven their ability to such a high standard at the age but it will still be a nagging doubt in the back of my mind and enough for me to take it on. Buveur Dair is the 2nd favourite and winner of the race last year. A best price 4/1 though and in my mind wasn’t an exceptional winner. Have to go back to 2004/2005 for the last time a horse retained this race. Might shorten in price given a good comeback though can also drift with the opposite so don’t think there is a lot to be gained at this stage.
Usually last seasons novices is a good place to start especially the Neptune, however last years first two home look more progressive chasers whilst the third has the makings of a stayer. Looking at the Supreme, the winner Labaiks career is unknown having injured itself in the Irish Champion and was ruled out for the long term. The third and fourth have already been out and won over the larger obstacles and look to stay in that sphere. Therefore it may pay to look towards the 2nd and 5th Melon and Cilaos Emery. Anyone who knows their racing will instantly recognise them as being Mullins trained horses. This gives us the interesting option as he trains the favourite however if it was to miss the race then anything trained by the Master may well catapault towards the head of the market. Melon was well touted for the Supreme last year even as far as favourite before it had been seen in this country on a racetrack. Didn’t disgrace itself on the big day when second though it should be remembered that it had only the one run over hurdles prior to that race which is a big negative trend when looking for the winner. So, a second place was a good performance. Didn’t really step up on that at Punchestown though I feel that having to make its own running never really helped it. Was beaten by Cilaos Emery that day but has since made a solid start to the term with a confident win on ground softer than ideal.
Cilaos Emery is a very interesting candidate. Seemed to be more of a front runner for Melon in the Supreme yet when got to run on its merits it beat Melon at Punchestown. May of found the easier track more in its favour though with a further 7 months under its belt it could see out the distance better. Willie Mullins was rather circumspect on both these horses in his stable tour though did admit that Cilaos Emery was likely to be kept to hurdles for another year but may get further than 2m. Could well make a seasonal return in the Hatton Grace where a good performance would see its price contract. It is certainly of interest and worth chancing even though we have yet to see it this season.
1pt win Melon @ 14/1 Boylesport, Stan James and Betvictor
0.5pt e/w Cilaos Emery @ 50/1 Stan James
National Hunt Chase
A race I really like though trying to predict at an early stage is very early with horses having the option of going 3m or to the 4m. Guessing which is just that. However one horse I had lined up for the festival since last years event is Tin Soldier. The owner has won the last two runnings of the Pertemps with Mall Dini and Presenting Percy who I tipped ante post last year and this looked another potential for the race in 2018 after an eyecatching 8th in the Coral Cup after staying on from the back having never been put into a race where those prominent were favoured. However, it blew any chance of a lenient mark in the Pertemps when finishing third at Punchestown in a grade 1, behind both the Martin Pipe conditions jockeys h’cap winner and the Albert Bartlett winners! Therefore it is starting this season over fences, but didn’t have the best of starts when coming to grief over 2m 4f at Gowran Park when every chance. Mullins has said he is an out and out stayer who generally jumps well and will stay to novice chasing so this looks a plausible option. Jumping is less of a test over a longer trip whilst it also got a sighter of the course last season. Trainer can obviously get them ready for the Festival whilst this did start at 5/1 for the Coral Cup and the owner has a good record there. If this can get a good prep in and is confirmed for the race then it could well go down to single figures.
1pt win Tin Soldier @ 25/1 Paddy Power
National Hunt Chase
Not going to advise a bet in the race. Instead I am advising a bet for Cheltenham, the NH Chase to be exact as that is surely going to be the target for Presenting Percy if it goes well here or wins over this 3m 5f trip. A best price of 7/2 for this race but currently 33/1 for Cheltenham, I would much rather be taking that latter value having proven itself at the festival already and the trainer/owner often targets the Festival. Currently rated 145 and with a rise in the weights if it was to win would take it into a rating of 150+, which it certainly winnable after Tiger Roll was rated 152 last year. With a very appealing profile Presenting Percy would surely become a single figure price for the race.
1pt e/w Presenting Percy @ 33/1 Bet365 1/4 odds 3 places
Another of my ante post advise here for Cheltenham with Supersundae worth supporting before this race for the Stayers hurdle in March. Not sure this is the race for it with Apple’s Jade looking very good but likely to take up the Mare’s hurdle come Cheltenham. Also Supersundae looks one for better ground than the soft here and a big field with cover and a good gallop, two things it is likely to get in March. However, there is the potential it can run very well here. It should be remembered that Nichols Canyon won that race last year and is 2nd fav with most bookmakers for a repeat win. However, on their first runs of the season Supersundae finished just 1 3/4 lengths behind Nichols Canyon over a trip clearly on the short side. Held up and ridden patiently it was staying on to good effect, closing all the time. A strong winner of the Coral Cup over 2m 5f, further always looked to be its future with plenty of promise shown in both runs. If it was to be staying on strongly again today, or even to finish ahead of Nichols Canyon it could half in price. Were it to win then it could well go favourite for the March event and we are looking at another great ante post ticket.
1pt e/w Supersundae – Stayers Hurdle @ 16/1 Bet365 1/4 odds 3 places
Here is a second edition of my ante post recommendations for the Cheltenham Festival. With some firms offering money back for non runners it gives some options, whilst also highlighting some good prices if you are prepared to take the chance on what race a horse will run in.
A fascinating race from an ante post perspective as both Altior and Douvan have their concerns. Altior has had numerous problems and has had a small operation to rectify a breathing issue. Rumoured that it may go straight to Cheltenham which is never ideal though with such a classy horse it wouldn’t be a surprise if they protect it and it misses Cheltenham altogether. Similar can be said of Douvan who hasn’t been seen since it was beaten in this race last year and in some quarters has been ruled out for the season. This leaves it very interesting as if both were to miss the race then whatever you bet you will have a good price if it runs. Politilogue is the obvious one to benefit, unbeaten in three runs this year. However, I have concerns about whether Cheltenham suits it. Its record at the course reads U04, this is compared with its record away from Cheltenham where barring a fall at Aintree it has finished in the first two in the rest of its 11 races. At a course where form and experience is key it leaves a nagging doubt in my mind on a horse who could start fairly short. Next in the betting is Min who is the replacement of Douvan for Ricci. Useful but nothing special if you take the 1st/2nd with Simply Ned from last time out. Open to improvement but not sure what its right trip is and still has a bit to prove to justify its price. With the likes of Yorkhill and Fox Norton having something to prove after its last runs I would rather look elsewhere.
In this field there is a horse who has already won at the Festival, boasting a record of 1211 at the course and has finished 2nd in this race. It also won its last race and is due to run again soon so no concerns on its fitness, yet it is available at a double figure price. This may be because the horse won the Ryanair last year but there is still a strong possibility in my mind that Un De Sceaux may go for the shorter option. For a start if there is no Douvan then it opens up the race for Mullins. I can understand him not wanting to run Un De Sceaux against it, but less so taking on Min from the same yard. The Ryanair also holds several options for the yard with 14 horses currently declared for the race including possibilities dropping back from 3m as well as those stepping up. The Ryanair is also shaping up to be rather competitive, arguably more so than what the Champion Chase could turn out to be. Finally, it is hard to get that memory of Un De Sceaux being closed upon up the run in having been quite keen in the race. That was on good ground and being allowed to do its own thing in front once getting there. If it was to come up softer and there to be competition for the lead then its stamina would be seriously tested, something which wouldn’t be an issue in the Champion Chase. It shouldn’t be forgotten either that with it due to prep this coming weekend over 2m in the Clarence House which it has won the last two years, if it was to blow the opposition away once more then it could also pursuade connections that the Champion Chase should be considered. I don’t think, with the doubts surrounding this race that you should rule out the possibility that Un De Sceaux could go for the shorter option and so represents a great price.
1pt win Un De Sceaux @ 14/1 Ladbrokes and Coral
For those that prefer the safety of the Non Runner No Bet option then the best you can get is 6/1 with Bet365 and Skybet, though is as short as 9/2 with Paddy Power. Come raceday, if Altior and Douvan miss out and connections decide to go for this then the 6/1 could still look big.
Not a race priced up by many but it is a race I have had some luck in including giving the winner Pacha De Polder as an ante post selection last year. That horse interested me because it had raced in the Foxhunters the previous year when ridden by Victoria Pendleton, finishing a creditable 5th. However, it was held out the back and never given a chance to win that day, as you would expect of a jockey who was under the public eye and after limited rides. Last year it had Bryony Frost who has really proved herself over the last year and the horse showed what it could do under stronger handling. A similar thing could happen with Wonderful Charm this year, though Katie Walsh is by far a better jockey than Victoria Pendleton. However, she was having her first ride on the horse last year when it went off as 7/2 favourite and stayed on strongly from the back to just be narrowly denied. The interesting thing about this horse is that since that race the Waley Cohen’s have bought into the horse with the intention of their son and leading amateur rider Sam having the ride. With the connections having such a strong prominence in the hunting scene then it is no surprise if this is a race they would love to win especially with their son on board. Has plenty of class and ability and as pointed out it is not short of course experience. I expect this to go off a much shorter price all being well.
1pt win Wonderful Charm @ 10/1 WillHill
Trainers are creatures of habit and though Cause Of Causes will be popular for the race again, there is another horse in the race for the yard that goes into it just like Cause Of Causes did last year. That is Tiger Roll winner of the 4m NH Chase at the festival last year (and also tipped up by us). Was given a prep in the cross country at Cheltenham last month when looking likely to benefit greatly from the experience, held up out the back and given plenty of sighters at the fences, finishing 5th. Interestingly Cause Of Causes had its first cross country run just a couple of months prior to the festival last year at Cheltenham when also finishing 5th, drawing the comments “not fluent early, soon well adrift, never a factor”. It was then backed consistently in the weeks leading up to the race, eventually starting and winning at 4/1. They are closely matched on official ratings though does benefit from age on its side. With there not being any other suitable staying races at Cheltenham for a horse that sees out 4m then this is a good path to go down. With plenty of time for the horse to benefit from training at home, like Cause Of Causes did then I don’t see why it shouldn’t go very close.
1pt win Tiger Roll @ 14/1 Boylesports
Or can get 10/1 Bet365 and Skybet with the benefit of Non Runner No Bet.
This is another instalment of my ante post advise for Cheltenham. Slightly different this time as won’t be going into quite as much detail on the first section of these. That is because I don’t expect any of them to actually run in the races I am betting them. That may sound strange but there is always the potential for them to do so. Plans change and when things get confirmed then some trainers may want to avoid other horses, or injuries rule out a leading protagonist making the race look the better option. Look at the way Yorkhills engagements for Cheltenham have changed over the last few months as a prime example. The point is, by backing these horses with companies that are non runner no bet then come race time and they don’t run you get your money back as cash! See it as a good way of saving some cash for Cheltenham with a small hope of picking up a good bit of value!! Remember it is vital if you follow my advise you bet these with NRNB companies!
1pt win Apples Shakira @ 12/1 Bet365 NRNB
Like several I will tip, this is strongly fancied for another race, the Triumph Hurdle for which she is a best priced 10/3 for the race. May well be the best race for her also with her victories coming over 2m 1f on soft ground suggesting the stiffer test of the Triumph on the old course may be more beneficial. However, there has to also be the temptation of running her in the Mares Novice or even the Supreme for which she would be getting 15lb in the weights from her older male counterparts. Just how strong is the race also? Up until a couple of weeks ago the race lacked a ‘superstar’ until Getabird pummelled Mengli Khan on its second hurdle start. There is also the suggestion that Getabird may go for a different race at the Festival with connections also having the speedily bred Sharjah well fancied in the line up (More of that later). I wonder if connections regret going with Defi Du Seuil for the Triumph last year when Supreme was mentioned as its performance allowing for weight allowance would probably of seen it win that race. The way she has improved this year she would be a very live candidate for this, Skybet has her priced as 5/1 for example so the 12/1 Bet365 must be taken.
1pt win Black Corton @ 12/1 Bet365 NRNB
1pt win Fagan @ 14/1 Bet365 and Skybet NRNB
A race that often goes to a horse that is high up in the Racing Post Ratings. We picked the winner last year on that basis with Tiger Roll and tipped up Presenting Percy for this race already at a cracking 33/1 which looks really good now, except that it is also favourite for the RSA which looks the more likely option! If it was to take up the RSA then it leaves this race wide open which is why it is worth taking a pot chance on a couple of horses at a good price. One may not take up this engagement whilst the other fits an interesting trend for the race.
Firstly Black Corton is actually the highest rated RPR in the race. He is two from two at Cheltenham and really gallops all the way to the line. Handles any ground though all its wins have come in small fields. I feel it is well suited to this race though there are a couple of doubts. Firstly is whether it will go for the race. According to RPR it is the joint third highest of those entered for the RSA though with top being Finian’s Oscar then it may not even take up the engagement, either way Black Corton would be one of the top rated horses in the more prestigious RPR. The Nicholls yard also has a poor record in the NH Chase despite having run several fancied chances which is disconcerting and may also prompt Nicholls to go the RSA. But, that may also work in our favour as having been denied several times before in this race then this is another great opportunity to win it. Paddy Power has it as short as 5/1 whilst Skybet go 8/1 so the 12s available with money back if doesn’t run looks great value.
Gordon Elliott has won this race three times in the last 7 years, interestingly each one of them had previously run in a chase at Cheltenham, clearly liking to give them good experience of the fences. The only horse of his entries to have done so this year is Fagan who was comfortably beaten by Black Corton here even in receipt of 3lb. However, not been seen since. That is no concern as yard can really ready them for a race whilst the horse looks best on decent ground which may be why they have put it away. The four miler was mentioned before its last race as being a target stating it clearly goes well here having come 2nd in the Albert Bartlett two years ago. The trainers plans for the race having nominated Jury Duty before its last run may be put on hold after that stopped on the run in over 3m at the weekend, not what you want to see for a horse you hope can go another mile! Whilst it may not be targeted at any other races at Cheltenham there is still a doubt about where it has last been for the last few months and so want the security of money back.
Ballymore Novices Hurdle
1.5pt win Getabird @ 7/1 Bet365 NRNB
As mentioned earlier there is an interesting dilemma for Mullins and Rich Ricci as he has two solid chances for the Supreme hurdle in Getabird an impressive winner last time and Sharjah who looked an interesting runner having won its first two races before falling when cruising at the last in a grade 1 at Christmas. If none the worse for that fall then it promises to be a serious prospect for the Supreme lacking a star. If they didn’t want to run the two against each other, which they have said before they don’t like doing, then the logical step is for Getabird to go for the Ballymore. It is a point winner, won a couple of bumpers and began over hurdles over 2m 4f on heavy ground. On that evidence it doesn’t suggest its a speedy type for the 2m, looking much more like wanting this trip. If they decide they don’t want to go the Supreme route or Samcro disappoints in a prep or something happens then you cannot rule out Getabird running here.
JLT Novice Chase
1.5pt win Footpad @ 6/1 Bet365 NRNB
Much like Getabird, this is favourite for the Arkle yet the yard has two creditable candidates for the race, with Sceau Royal as well. 4th in the Champion hurdle last year but also 3rd in the Irish stayers over 3m at Punchestown suggests that stamina is not an issue. Sceau Royal meanwhile has been kept at around 2m all its career and looks a typical 2 miler. IF they wanted to open up their options giving them a chance of winning both races then Footpad could be rerouted here. With both Skybet and Paddy Power they are 2/1 so value to be had.
1.5pt win Douvan @ 7/1 Bet365 NRNB
Maybe right out of left field but Ricci has two candidates in Min and Douvan for the Champion Chase. There was already talk prior to this season of Douvan stepping up in trip, with the King George mentioned in an attempt to avoid Altior. Maybe with Min to take in the Champion Chase and stamina not proven for something like the Gold Cup then you can’t rule out a tilt at the Ryanair.
1.5pt win Apples Jade @ 7/1 Bet365 NRNB
Not a strong looking race with the favourite an improver this year, but lacks any Cheltenham form and was beaten off 136 in a handicap at the start of the season. Supersundae has the Cheltenham form having won at the Festival last year and we are on it ante post at a much bigger price. However, it has been found wanting twice behind Apples Jade who would surely start at a much shorter price than it is currently with Bet365 were it to take this race in, which arguably looks easier than the Mares hurdle.
1.5pt win Samcro @ 8/1 Bet365 NRNB
Hard to see plans changing but Samcro is a point winner who doesn’t look short of stamina. Gigginstown has plenty of options though and with Samcro having a prep run before Cheltenham, if things didn’t go as they expected, Samcro get outpaced in its race for example then the Albert Bartlett could suddenly look the best option. We quickly see plans change because of how a horse performs at a trip.
A race that invariably goes to a lightly raced 5 or 6yo with that age group accounting for the last ten runners. Whilst Lalor has already proved popular and is currently favourite I am concerned what has happened at the yard after the death of the trainer might have a lasting effect for now, the runners to have come out since have underperformed in comparison to their price. There are two that I do like the look of though.
First is Kalashnikov who was quietly fancied for the Supreme prior to getting beat at Sandown. Wouldn’t be the first horse to get bogged down on heavy at that stiff track though and had looked useful in winning a couple of novices before. A good win here wouldn’t rule out a tilt still at Cheltenham, Ballyandy used it as a springboard after winning this race off a mark of 135 and with Kalashnikov currently 141 then victory could see it bang there. A little go on the 20/1 non runner no bet with Skybet for the Supreme might prove a wise investment as a win will see it shorten considerably whilst defeat would mean it either goes for a different engagement or miss Cheltenham altogether.
The other that catches my eye further down the weights is Spiritofthegames which looks too big at 25/1. Dan Skelton runner who was 2nd in the Lanzarote on only its 2nd start of the season, the form of which has already been boosted by the 4th winning for us at the weekend. This Irish point winner has yet to race at 2m, having been kept over further and there is a concern he may find things happening a bit quick for it. However, will be well suited to the hustle and bustle and usual strong gallop of the race and can at least argue is unexposed at the distance! If he can keep in touch in the early stages then there shouldn’t be anything staying on stronger at the finish. Handles any ground so the softer the better really to bring its proven stamina into play.
1pt win Kalashnikov @ 12/1 widely available
Supreme Novice Hurdle
0.75pt win Kalashnikov @ 20/1 Skybet NRNB
Further Cheltenham ante post advice
A race that is quite strong on trends. You need a minimum of 160 RPR (10/11 winners), a top three finish last time out (11/11) and to have contested a graded chase (11/11) which suggests you already need to have reached a fair standard over fences. Interestingly, 10 of the last 11 winners had run between 6 and 12 times over hurdles and fences combined with at least three of those runs over the larger obstacles. To me therefore you are looking for a horse who has not been exposed of yet and still open to a bit of improvement in this sphere. Finally, to have run between 24 and 53 days before the race accounts for 10 of the last 11, its one where a prep run is a must, maybe down to the gruelling nature of this race, often run at a good gallop. Interestingly of the 50 chase runs amongst the last 11 winners, only two had finished outside the first three barring falls, they were two of the classiest horses coming into the race in Blaklion and Might Bite, who had a failed attempt in chases early in career. Might Bite was also a trend buster last year as one of only 2 from the last 11 years not to have previous Festival experience, though on the plus side it had run three times at Cheltenham prior to last years race.
The qualifiers under all of the rules at this stage are:
Willoughby Court is unlikely to go for the race with connections stating that the JLT over 2m 4f is the target. Only just got home to win the Neptune over 2m 4f last year, not proven over 3m it therefore makes sense though the battling qualities it showed there were typical of a usual RSA winner.
Presenting Percy is the interesting one as they could potentially ‘ruin’ its trend status with another run as it currently sits at 12 career runs over hurdles and fences. However connections have said they want to get another run into it and you just don’t know what will happen in that race. Best price 100/30 or 3/1 with a guarantee, personally I am not certain the 3m is its trip as it has bags of stamina and suggestions from the yard are that its the owner who wants to go for the RSA, maybe because they have a valid candidate in Mall Dini who can still run in the NH Chase. Come the race it could well be one for a place but may be susceptible to a quicker rival and so can’t be backed at its price at the moment.
Monalee holds strong claims when it comes to the trends and did well at the Festival last year when 2nd to Penhill in the Albert Bartlett despite lacking course and festival experience. HAs always looked a chaser and had no problem putting a surprising fall behind it to win next time out In a decent contest. Looks the biggest danger to Presenting Percy as it has the better flat speed which may be crucial if the ground comes up to its usual standard. Personal worry is that it has a bit to find still on RPRs currently though the race will likely break up and top rated isn’t so important in this race as long as you are within 10lb of top rated which it should be.
Elegant Escape is my idea of the value though there was initial talk of the NH Chase for which he is shorter. Has a similar profile to Native River who was second in the NH Chase for the yard which is why they may go that route. However, recent suggestions have been the RSA, maybe because it might seem easier on this 6yo who looks likely to put in a bold bid whichever race it goes for. Was highly touted by the yard as the best they had seen at its age, it was given some lofty efforts over hurdles in grade 1 affairs including at Cheltenham in the Albert Bartlett. Wasn’t up to the task but all that was just to prep it with its chase career in mind. Has took a little while still to find its feet having been turned over three times in five runs though has put in two really good rounds of jumping the last twice, culminating in a comfortable victory last weekend. Ticks all the boxes, the yard is coming into form, age maybe an issue, only one 6yo has won in the last 11 years though to be fair not many have tried, nor have they all been as experienced over fences as this one. Has a higher RPR than Monalee, it looks like a good gallop over this trip could be ideal and at its price, even allowing for the NRNB I would have thought it would end up shorter if going for this.
1pt win Elegant Escape @ 20/1 10Bet and Sportpesa NRNB or 16/1 Paddy
A race I like for trends and it led me to the winner last year at a decent price. Unfortunately the only horse that fits everything I am looking for has been practically ruled out for the season in Downtown Getaway. Still priced up by everyone though at 14/1 bet365 and Skybet with non runner no bet so in case miracles are worked there would be no harm in having a few quid on. It is important you go with a horse who won last time out like the last 11 all did. Usually an absence of 32 days or more is found with runners also, carefully prepared at home for the race. I also like to see the horse having won a bumper with at least 13 runners and one worth at least 4k (Euros or Pounds) to the winner which are both 8/11. Last years winner had done both, met all the stats required yet was available at 20/1 a couple of weeks before. Ended up well supported into 7/1 on the day before winning. Acey Milan fits the trends having won a valuable bumper with 16 runners though this race rarely goes to a 4yo, a shock win by Cue Card the only to do so in the last 11 years despite plenty trying. One to catch my eye is Alighted for Joseph O’Brien who has had a great start to his training career. A winner of a Leopardstown bumper over xmas on its debut beating 12 rivals staying on strongly. Not much known of its plans though and only Bet365 and Skybet have it priced up, though with non runner no bet we don’t have much to lose. Just fails on the trends as its RPR of 125 leaves it 1 short of the usual 126+ seen before, though the two to not reach that level but still win were both once raced horses like this.
Another to just miss out on the trends by one, but this time by one runner is Carefully Selected a point to point winner who went and won a 2m 4f bumper against 11 opponents doing so in strong style with the form comparable with several other Irish rivals. This 2m on likely decent ground may be more than the bare minimum this horse needs though at least it should be running on strong at the finish. From the Mullins yard it has the potential to be very well supported in the betting whilst trained by a master, it could find the necessary speed required for this.
1pt win Alighted @ 14/1 Bet365 and Skybet NRNB
1pt win Carefully Selected @ 16/1 Bet365 and Paddy NRNB
A race in which the trends generally held up last year. Every winner for the last 11 years has been a grade 1 chase winner whilst 10/11 have been aged 7-9, had 2-5 runs that season, with an adjusted RPR of 173 and won over at least 3m. 9/11 had won a graded chase that season whilst 8/11 had run between 5 and 10 times over fences and been placed or won previously at the Festival. The only trend that Sizing John last year didn’t fit was that 8 of the previous 10 winners had run in the King George or Lexus chase that season, with the winner having raced over shorter prior to being stepped up in trip on its Cheltenham prep run. Looking through this years runners there are two horses who meet the requirements. Firstly is Might Bite who looks like it will take all the beating in what will probably be its only realistic chance (Unless it can do what Denman, Kauto Star and many other greats couldn’t do ie win the race as a 10yo+). However, the other who fits the trends is Road To Respect who seems a bit of value at a double figure price. Not done much wrong since the Festival last year when producing an improved display to win the Brown Advisory as a novice before then beating Yorkhill at Fairyhouse. Started the season with a grade 3 win on its first try at 3m+ before narrowly losing out to Outlander. Didn’t seem to jump with the usual fluency that day, not helped by the right handed track I feel, edging left at several fences including the last couple. Back to form though to win the Christmas chase (Was the Lexus) with Outlander in behind. Also possible that the application of a hood just helped with it to concentrate in a finish. Is the best we have seen from Ireland this year whilst seems to only do what is necessary which means it can continue to improve and give Might Bite something to think about.
1pt win Road To Respect @ 10/1 widely available NRNB
Bit of a lottery as to who will turn up and who will go for the shorter Ballymore. Assuming Samcro goes for shorter then Cracking Smart will set the standard on RPR and gives a very solid claim. A maiden and listed novice hurdle wins were followed up with runner up spots behind Next Destination in graded races over 2m 4f. Listed win came at 3m though so longer trip looks the more likely option. Handled good ground when romping away to win a bumper last year. Does lack Cheltenham form but apart from that then should run a strong race.
There are a couple of others though at a bigger price that also fits the trend and may be worth supporting at this stage. Fist up is Enniscoffey Oscar for Emma Lavelle. Shaped with promise in a couple of bumpers culminating in 2nd place at Aintree in a grade 2. Gained its experience over hurdles over shorter though unsurprisingly for one from this yard it showed massive improvement when upped to 3m, like so many do. Last seen when winning a grade 2 at Doncaster showing good qualities in doing so having been dragged across the track by the runner up. The form has received a boost after the fourth who finished 28 lengths behind went and won a handicap next time off 138! Seems to be improving all the time and interestingly a female trainer won this race in 2012 and 2013.
The second to fulfil the trends is Black Op. Yet to race over 3m though did win its only point by 25 lengths in Ireland. Lightly raced, ran in a couple of bumpers before hurdling this year. Outpaced over 2m it showed improvement when upped to 2m 5f, coasting home by 17 lengths. Raised in class it was second to the lightly raced Santini though not beaten far. Having led a long way from home it is possible it idled a little in front and was left a sitting duck. The pair were a long way clear. Will need to improve but that is possible for the step up in trip, will have no problem with the ground and the owner likes his Cheltenham runners (Did me a favour a few years ago with Western Warhorse at 100/1 in the Arkle). May go for the Ballymore so safer to bet with NRNB.
1pt win Enniscoffey Oscar @ 20/1 Bet365, Skybet and Paddy Power NRNB
1pt win Black Op @ 12/1 Bet365, Skybet and Paddy NRNB
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