Day 2 Wednesday
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Similarly, the second day kicks-off with a novices hurdle and as mentioned previewing the Supreme, at this stage many of the main protagonists are double-entered and with this being an intermediate distance, it will also have entries that end up in the (3m) Albert Bartlett on the Friday. The perils of ante-post betting also bring opportunities, particularly if you can get on NRNB. Envoi Allen has been ante-post fav throughout the winter, in fact probably since he won the Champion Bumper last year. He’s been so impressive that there have been calls for him to forego novice glory and go for the Champion Hurdle. I doubt that connections are considering this option and I’d be surprised if he turned up in March in anything other than the Ballymore. The form of last year’s Bumper has worked out well with: Thyne Hill, Abracadabras, Master Debonair among those that followed him home last March. His claims for glory are undisputed but he’s 10/11 with firms that aren’t even refunding non-runners and I can’t see him being shorter on the morning of the race so I cannot see the logic in backing him at this stage, the value has to lie elsewhere. Sporting John and Chantry House are both fairly prominent in the market and are both owned by JP McManus. JP’s not averse to running his horses against each other so I think both will run if Hobbs and Henderson respectively feel that this is the right race. They’ve had contrasting preparations, Sporting John winning a competitive race at Ascot in bottomless ground and Chantry House taking the Seven Barrows route of collecting small races beneath his grade. Chantry House ‘could be anything’ while Sporting John has the form in the book but that race at Ascot may take it’s toll; Hobbs also has Thyme Hill in the race and he too has been contesting graded races and progressed. He may prove to have the best guide between the Irish and British novice form based on the bumper mentioned above, some horses improve for hurdles but I doubt that he is good enough to challenge Envoi Allen. In fact, outside of the McManus pair, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fiddlerontheroof proved to be best of British, should he take up this engagement. My preview of the Supreme mentioned that Shishkin and Asterion Forlonge are in the same ownership and there appears to be a growing opinion that Mrs Donnelly will run both in the festival opener, leaving The Big Getaway to take on Envoi Allen. Having already mentioned Stolen Silver as a big price for the Supreme, his run in the Betfair Hurdle did suggest a step up in trip is needed and the 50/1 NRNB here is tempting.
Stolen Silver – each-way @ 50/1 NRNB
RSA Novice Chase
This year’s renewal will come some way to topping the 2019 running in which Topofthegame beat Santini and Delta Work, the former is out for the season while the latter two are prominent in the Gold Cup betting. As talented as Champ is, I can’t help but think that he’s position at the head of the market is more to do with the whole ‘AP’ story than what he’s achieved on the racecourse and he looks a bit of a risky proposition. When Minella Indo won last year’s Albert Bartlett it was one of the most remarkable performances I’ve witnessed, running far too free for most of the race I’d have backed it to be pulled-up but he stayed on again to win well and immediately looked the attraction for this year’s RSA and I’ve seen nothing this season to put me off. Copperhead must be one of the most progressive chasers in training having started the season getting beaten into fifth on his seasonal debut when rated 125 and then won 3 on the spin cumulating in capturing the Reynoldstown and a new rating of 155. He has every right to go RSA but has been talked about as more of a NH Chase staying type for which he is also entered. That and the fact that he had a tough race at Ascot just three weeks from the festival puts me off of a bet at 7/1. A win for Faugheen would bring the house down but he looks to be going for the Marsh, if he lines up at all.
Minella Indo – 4/1 NRNB
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is oddly one of the Championship where it doesn’t pay to be ageist, with the likes of Moscow Flyer, Special Tiara, Sire de Grugy and Sprinter Sacre all tasting glory with veteran status. So, I wouldn’t oppose anything on age grounds but at this stage the “QM” has built-up so far into one of the most eagerly awaited races of the week. Defi Du Seuil has been the 2m star all season, Chacin Pu Soir has been spoken about with glowing praise from connections still searching for their first 2m champion. Then there’s the returning champion, Altior, back to try and retain his crown after an abortive attempt to be the next Kauto Star. It’s a mouth-watering prospect and if I had a free bet, I would probably side with Altior. I was quite surprised by some of the opinions after he won the Game Spirit on his return, particularly that “he hit a flat spot” and “workman-like” as to my mind he always hits a flat-spot before powering away and winning anyway. I was encouraged by that Newbury run and I’m sure there’s plenty to work on. I wouldn’t suggest a bet on either of the three at this stage but I think there could be some each-way value with Dynamite Dollars (25/1). Straight after the Game Spirit, Dynamite Dollars was 25/1 and Sceau Royal was 12’s which didn’t make any sense to me, if I could have got a match bet at that stage, I would be all-over DD to reverse the form at Cheltenham and the King horse is likely to skip the festival if the ground is soft anyway. The prices are more accurate now, if any of the top three don’t line-up or under-perform, I think the Nicholls horse is the best chance of an outsider hitting the frame:
Dynamite Dollars – 25/1 each-way NRNB
The legend that is Tiger Roll has breathed some life into the ‘marmite race’ the Cross Country. I used to take the opportunity to have a breather, place a combination forecast on course winners, go to the bar and return to the stands as the runners joined the racecourse proper but now I have to watch the Tiger. He’s evens which is about right, basically evens that he gets round without being hampered. I will wait for the day for the novelty markets; like the golf majors used to have “betting without Tiger”. Other than that Urgent De Gregaine (10/1) is probably the most reliable alternative.
Boodles Handicap Hurdle
I hate it when people brag that they have a big price on a Cheltenham favourite so I won’t say that I do actually have some 25/1 Aramax, in all seriousness it is only small stakes and I can’t take any credit for it having taken the hint from David Jennings in the Racing Post. Premium Members may have had a few quid on Night Edition at 33/1 NRNB after I suggested it before he won at Ludlow, he’s now around 16/1 and should at least get into the race off of 133+ but Pipe said he will need another run to qualify. One other that I like the profile of is Galahad Quest who beat Night Edition last time out in a grade 2 at Cheltenham after a close second to Buzz in an all-aged maiden hurdle. Nick Williams landed this with Flying Tiger in 2017, so sometimes it pays to look further than Elliott, O’Brien and Nicholls hotpots.
Galahad Quest each-way @ 20/1 NRNB
Day 3 Thursday
Formerly known as the JLT or the Jewson – As mentioned on the Ryanair preview, a win for Faugheen at the festival would raise the roof and he looks more likely to line up here over 2½m than the 3m staying chase, being an ex-champion hurdler on “Annie Power day” 2015. Although I would like to see “the machine” have another glory day, I have to take him on as a 12-y-o, age is definitely against him at this level. Many of his opponents at this stage look more likely to go for the Arkle so I’m ruling out: Mister Fisher, Fakir Doudairies and Brewinupastorm in favour of the horse that would have been my Arkle pick, Itchy Feet. Olly Murphy’s fledgling chaser has impressed over fences this season and his performance in last year’s Supreme proves that he has festival form and sufficient class to win. The current second fav, Allaho, is quite short for the RSA and with so many defectors the race is likely to cut-up and give a nice each-way angle
Itchy Feet – each-way @ 5/1
A Plus Tard was an easy winner at last year’s festival and is likely to head for the Ryanair rather than the Champion Chase and he’s a worthy favourite. However, I’m late coming to the party and 9/4 doesn’t appeal at this stage with likely opponent such as: Min, Frodon, Riders Onthe Storm and Un De Sceaux taking him on, that’s a useful team to have on your side if you’re taking on A Plus Tard! The age factor again, with the poor record of veteran’s in most of the championship races, puts me off of UDS and last year’s runner-up, Aso. Riders Onthe Storm had a gruelling race at Ascot and that could take some time getting over, he certainly won’t go to the festival fresh and won’t be carrying any of my money, if I owned him I think I’d be tempted to bank the Grade 1 and wait for Aintree or Punchestown. The first four in the market: A Plus Tard, Min, Frodon and Rider Onthe Storm are around 9/2 ON with NRNB prices, so I will probably have to wait until the day of the race. Just one left of field angle with the record of handicappers that have ha good weight-carrying performances over CD, like Aso and Frodon last year, Cepage ran a cracker under top-weight in the trials day version of the CD Gold Cup. He has the Festival Plate as am option having only gone up 1lb so I wouldn’t risk an ante-post bet (40/1) but may be worth an each-way flutter:
Cepage – 33/1 each-way NRNB
Paisley Park reminds me a lot of the legend Bick Bucks in that he often looks to have hit a flat spot but always powers away at the finish. He’s carried on as he left of last season and trying to find one against him appears to be futile despite the fact that he’s a best-priced 8/11. To some extent the only angle for an ante-post bet would be if there was any suggestion that the favourite won’t turn-up. The only possible opposition I can see is the unlikelihood of Benie Des Dieux being re-routed from the mares’ hurdle, she would be a serious threat to Paisley Park retaining the stayers crown. Summerville Boy, The Worlds End, Summerville Boy and Emitom are the obvious candidates to take minor honours but none are big enough prices to warrant an each-way bet; City Island returning to hurdles would be interesting but he’s only 12/1. One that might be over-priced is Bacardys (25/1) if you can forgive his last run, based on the best of his back catalogue. I think the value may lie in the day of the race market, where firms will be falling over themselves with special offers.