Cheltenham Last Year included: Wicklow Brave (2nd 28/1), Ch’tibello [2 point win nap] (WON 12/1); Early Doors (WON 5/1) – 2018 included: Shantou Flyer (2nd 25/1), Rathvinden (WON 9/2); Presenting Percy (WON 5/2); Balko Des Flos (WON 8/1), Barra (3rd 16/1), Footpad (WON 5/6), Buveur D’Air – 5* bet (WON 4/6) 5 point win bet, Samcro – 3* bet (WON 8/11)…

Cheltenham 2020 – ante post Review

For members who like a few ante-post punts for the Festival, based on current price versus risk, Obviously, I agree that, in most cases, the favourite is the most likely winner but is not available at a tempting price for a bet. I wouldn’t advise big stakes if you can’t get NRNB, there’s nothing more disheartening than going into a meeting already heavily down on non-runners and there’s plenty of good offers on the day of the race to exploit.

It goes without saying that all of the novice events are trickier to play ante-post as most of the entrants have multiple entries at this stage, thank God that we now have 48-hour decs for each race, that at least gives us some advance warning, particularly if attending all four days. The most powerful yards generally have different approaches to the way they campaign their novices; Mullins, Elliott and Tizzard tend to run their best prospects in graded races and Henderson tends to give his chances an easier route to the festival. Both approaches work, Pentland Hills won the Triumph Hurdle last year after a run in a Plumpton class 4 and City Island captured the Ballymore in his first attempt in graded company; while Klassical Dream tasted success in the Supreme coupling up on his Grade 1 win at the Dublin Festival. So, you can’t be too dogmatic about trends which brings me on nicely to…

Day 1 – Supreme Novices Hurdle

At the time of writing, Shishkin is as short as 9/4 for the opener on the back of two facile victories in modest races and not tested beyond listed class, but that is Nicky Henderson’s “m.o.” and he’s been successful for decades to the extent that he’s the most successful trainer at the festival, so there’s no reason why the gelding could not be the next Altior. He’s yet to be fully tested, so has questions to ask, one being that while he was impressive at Huntingdon, on the bare form beating last fence faller Hang In There, wasn’t any better form than Fiddlerontheroof (8/1) had already achieved at Grade 1 level. The other issue I have with the price is that the same owner also has Asterion Forlonge (11/2) – who has followed the same route to Cheltenham as Klassical Dream last year – I can see Willie Mullins being quite persuasive if he sees the Supreme as the most suitable race for his charge and there’s always some form of “musical chairs’ with owners and trainers. Finally, is Shiskin really going to be much shorter than 3/1 on the day? It does appear that Envoi Allen will contest the Ballymore on the Wednesday (or the Champion Hurdle) and I don’t understand why Abacadabras (11/2) is over twice the price of the favourite having already won at the top level and running second to Envoi Allen at Leopardstown over Christmas. Colin Tizzard trains the aforementioned Fiddlerontheroof, he has another serious contender in Master Debonair (16/1) and has stated recently that plans are fluid regarding the pair, which puts you off an early bet on either of them. There are at least two that interest me at big prices: Stolen Silver (50/1) who was disappointing on quicker ground in the Betfair Hurdle but, particularly if it is testing on the opening day, he would be in the mix based on his grade 2 win at Haydock which was run in a quicker time than the Champion Hurdle trial on the same card. Also, in his favour for an ante-post bet is that I’m pretty sure that he is the number one novice at the Twiston-Davies yard and quite likely to turn-up [Update 12th February: Bet365 are now NRNB and go 50/1 for the Ballymore]. If there was a prospect of soft-ground on the Tuesday and drying ground all week, I wonder if connections of Allmankind (66/1) would be tempted by the 8lb 4-y-o allowance and take their chance in the Supreme instead of the Triumph on Friday? It would certainly be worth consideration.
Abacadabras (5/1 NRNB; 11/2 ante-post)
Stolen Silver each-way (50/1 NRNB)

Similar to the puzzle to solve with the Supreme and which runners will opt for the Ballymore, several of the leading contenders here have an option of the Marsh Chase and with some, connections have already hinted that the middle-distance option is there preference, but that’s part-and-parcel of ante-post punting! Having been with Notebook since he thrashed one of my selections, Moon Over Germany, I wouldn’t want to take him on now from what we’ve witnessed so far it’s difficult to see any of the Irish challengers improving past him. At 3/1 he’s not an ante-post play for me, particularly as the next to in the market, Fakir Doudairies (6/1) and Cash Back (7/1) also represent the Irish form and it’s a shade odds-on that the winner will come from those three. As there’s very little collateral form to go on I’m surprised that the market is 10/11 those three and 9/4 the first FIVE in the betting of the home contingent. At those prices, I would rather have a ‘team’ of Brewinupastorm, Global Citizen, Mister Fisher, Rouge Vif and Maire Banrigh running for me at 9/4 than the odds-on trio. Based on the novice hurdle form of last season there shouldn’t be such a disparity between the British and Irish form, in fact based on Festival form, arguably the home team have the edge. The best 2m novice chase I’ve seen this season is the Wayward Lad Novices Chase run at Kempton over Christmas, which was run just below standard in “tacky” ground and was over four seconds quicker than the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase run on the same card over CD. The downside to that is that the first five were separated by just over five lengths. The winner and runner-up, Global Citizen (16/1) and Rouge Vif (20/1), look likely to re-oppose here and although the prices are fair, I don’t trust either of them to repeat their best form on the big day as they’ve both disappointed before. Al Dancer (25/1) was fourth at Kempton and has since been beaten by Mister Fisher (20/1), who has impressed me as a fledgling chaser and boasts some decent novice hurdle form. He would be a confident choice at 20/1 but is only half that “with a run” and connections have mooted the idea of stepping up in trip. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t line-up for the Arkle as he clearly has plenty of speed, but I’ll skip the 10/1 and, if necessary, take a shorter price on the day, but he may be worth a dabble at 20’s. There hasn’t been a mare winner of the Arkle for a while and maybe that’s why Maire Banrigh appears to be a bit of a forgotten horse, she has won six on the bounce over hurdles and fences albeit none above listed level. She may have been flattered to beat Thomas Darby earlier in the season, as he’s returned to hurdling but on official ratings, when taking her mares’ allowance into account she’s bang in there with the best of the British, jumps well and has scope for further improvement. My original pick was Itch Feet but he’s a short-priced fav for the Marsh Novices’ Chase and connections, same owners as Rouge Vif, appear set to go there:

Mister Fisher – 20/1 ante-post
Maire Banrigh – 16/1 NRNB (20/1 ante-post)

Champion Hurdle

Although I agree that this year’s renewal looks to have fallen apart and it could be one of the worst Champion Hurdle’s in recent years, if the first and second go on to fight-out the next three renewals we’ll all be saying that the 2020 race was a vintage one! The race looks to need an injection of ‘surprise’ runners such as Envoi Allen, Benie Des Dieux or/and Honeysuckle but as it stands I don’t have any ante-post angles on the race. I will review again once plans are clearer.

Which brings me onto the Mares’ Hurdle and that has a similar look about it with Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle heading the market while both keeping other festival options open. The former was last year’s moral victor and the recipient of her misfortunate, Roksana is presumably being targeted at the race again and looks a solid place option but at a miserly 10/1, I wouldn’t want to waste a win part of an each-way bet if the other two turn-up. No bet at this stage.

NH Hunt Chase

The novices staying chase closes the proceedings on day one and is no longer known as “the four-miler” having been shortened to 3m 6f, after pressure from campaigners after last year’s attritional and controversial renewal. It is difficult trying to ascertain who turns up her rather than one of the other staying chases, mainly the RSA but the favourite Carefully Selected (7/2) does look likely to take this option. He’s a worthy favourite based on his novice chase form but Champagne Classic is the bet for me. He would need to reverse the Christmas Leopardstown form with stablemate Battleoverdoyen (16/1) but that one looks more likely to go the RSA route. Champagne Classic (5/1) is a former festival winner having one the conditionals hurdle in 2017 before tasting Grade 1 success at Punchestown when winning the 3m novice hurdle from an all-star cast that included: Penhill, Monalee, Al Boum Photo and Presenting Percy; I can’t see anything else in the field with that level of achievement. Paul Nicholls has a poor record in the race but Danny Whizzbang (16/1) look the pick of the British, based on his defeat of Reserve Tank at Newbury and then travelling well before being hampered in the Kauto Star on Boxing Day. He looks every inch a staying chaser but his pedigree doesn’t suggest he’s born for extreme distances (Update 12th February: Paul Nicholls told Sky Racing that if Danny Whizzbang runs at Ascot [Reynoldstown] he won’t run at Cheltenham).
Champagne Classic – 5/1

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