In October on these pages I penned my early antepost selections for all of the major races at the Cheltenham Festival next March. Now, with the season in full flight and some more substance added to most of the markets, it seems a good time to review those picks and introduce some new value options.
Supreme Novices Hurdle
We’ve yet to see either of my selections for the festival opener, Getabird and Dortmund Park, although the former should be close to an outing after being entered up (albeit not being declared) at Punchestown this week. Despite one of those entries being over two miles, the vibes coming from Closutton are that the son of Getaway is more likely to be campaigned over staying trips. With this in mind he’s probably one to be keeping our powder dry on for the time being, although you can get 12/1 three places for him on the any race market with Hills.
Of the three novice hurdle categories the two mile division is by far the murkiest at the moment and it may well be that we haven’t get seen the Supreme winner yet this term. For most of the early season the market leader was the unknown quantity they call Annamix. He will remain an unknown quantity for another year too after being ruled out of the season through injury. Anyway, if last season told us anything, it was that it’s dangerous to believe the hype about some of the Mullins hotpots. Remember Senewalk?
One that we do now know something about, however, is Real Steel and by all accounts he is the real deal. The manner of the French import’s victory at Thurles this week was particularly impressive, beating another smart one in Daly Tiger by four and a half lengths. The pair of them were 16 lengths clear of the third and it was surprising not to see Real Steel cut to more than the 20/1. Mullins relies on Listowel winner Makitorix in the Grade 1 Royal Bond this Sunday but I haven’t seen a more impressive performance in Ireland of the possible Supreme contenders than Real Steel. The four-year-old is definitely one to keep onside.
One horse that really impressed me on this side of the Irish Sea was Nicky Henderson’s Claimantakinforgan. Last season’s Champion Bumper third travelled very strongly on his hurdles debut at Newbury before getting the better of Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation (who won a strong looking race at the same track on Friday), the pair of them 16 lengths clear of the third horse home. Henderson often introduces his best novice hurdlers at Newbury – think Buveur D’air as a prime example – and I think this is one who could play a strong hand this season. You can back the son of Great Pretender at a whopping 33/1.
Dortmund Park 50/1 (now 40/1)
Real Steel 20/1
Ballymore Novices Hurdle
Of all the selections in my original piece, none has made more of an impact since than Samcro. Advised at 16/1, he’s since been smashed into 5/2 after two ultra impressive wins and is already being viewed as banker material for the Festival. As for my other selection, the fellow Gigginstown-owned and Gordon Elliott-trained Poli Roi, well despite winning last time out he can now be backed at 40/1. From what I’ve seen so far I’m not totally convinced he’s as good over hurdles as the promise he showed in bumpers, but he’s certainly one to keep in your trackers none the less.
Another 40/1 shot worth a couple of quid each way is Ravenhill Road. Described as a ‘machine’ by trainer Brian Ellison, he couldn’t have been more impressive on his hurdles debut at Sedgefield in October as he remained unbeaten after a point, two bumpers and now a hurdles race. There’s obviously a big step up for him to take to be challenging at Cheltenham but he might well be up to the task. He’s clearly an immense talent and could well become a much needed flag bearer for the north in the years to come.
Samcro 16/1 (now 5/2)
Poli Roi 16/1 (now 40/1)
Ravenhill Road 40/1
Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle
Normally the Albert Bartlett wouldn’t be the race of the three novice hurdles that I would be getting most excited about, but this year I think it could contain some real class acts. Apart from Samcro, for me the novice hurdler that has got my blood pumping more than any of the newcomers I’ve seen so far this season is White Moon. I fell in love with Colin Tizzard’s Irish point winner during his six-length rules debut success at Wincanton, a feeling that was only strengthened by the manner of his success by the same distance at Exeter next time out. He travels, jumps and stays and looks all over an Albert Bartlett contender for me. I’ve already advised him at 25/1 in my blog but 20s are still available, a price which could be one of the best antepost bets you’ll have this year. He’ll be stepped up in class again next time out and if he’s as good as I think he is then that price will be halved.
Another to impress so far in the staying division was Kim Bailey’s Red River – a 13-length winner at Wincanton a month ago. He can be backed at 25/1, but at the same price is my new recommendation for this race – Ballyward. Although he’s not tackled timber yet, you had to take notice of the way Willie Mullins talked him up in his recent Racing Post stable tour. Not one to go over the top with his enthusiasm, the master trainer said: “He’s a really nice sort and we’re looking forward to sending him over hurdles. He’ll be one for the staying division and should do well.” A 16-length winner of a bumper at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, he could well end up being Mullins’ top staying novice hurdler and should be backed before he runs.
As for my original selection, Blow by Blow, well I wouldn’t be giving up on him just yet, despite his defeat on his long-awaited return to action earlier this month. It was a loss over a trip far too short and he has notoriously been a horse that is difficult to train, so will strip much fitter next time out. I actually thought he ran really well all things considered and still believe he can be a player in what truly is a fascinating division. Gordon Elliott’s charge steps up to 2m 2f at Fairyhouse on Saturday and even though this still isn’t his ideal distance I expect him to improve on his first run and get his head in front. If all goes to plan hopefully we’ll then see him over three miles at Christmas.
Blow by Blow 25/1 (now 33/1)
White Moon 25/1 (now 20/1)
About Faugheen‘s planned comeback run in the Morgiana, in October I wrote: “If he shows he is back to himself then you can wave goodbye to the 8/1 currently on offer.” Well, he is back and we’ve well and truly bid farewell to those prices, with 15/8 favouritism now the order of the day. The game needs its superstars and it’s great to have this fella back strutting his stuff. If he stays sound then I can’t see anything getting near him come March.
My other original selection, Faugheen’s stablemate Yorkhill, is now available at 20/1 following Mullins’ admission that they will most likely start the son of Presenting off over fences this season. However, the door still seems to be very much open to a switch back over timber later in the season so there are certainly worse punts than taking a gamble that this will end up being the case.
Faugheen 8/1 (now 15/8)
Yorkhill 12/1 (now 20/1)
The Stayers Hurdle is a market that hadn’t really changed over the past couple of months, that was until the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury where Unowhatimeanharry suffered a surprise defeat to 40/1 shot, Beer Goggles. That reverse has seen Harry Fry’s pride and joy eased to 8/1 and although you would expect him to reverse the form with Beer Goggles it certainly raises doubts about the strength of the English candidates for the three mile hurdling crown. Although, let me throw a curveball into the equation – what price Yanworth reverting back to hurdles? He doesn’t seem entirely happy over fences and with the staying hurdling division seemingly being wide open it might just be worth taking a chance with the 20/1 available with Betfair.
What of the Irish candidates? I find it a tad bizarre that Penhill, advised at 18/1, is now a best price 12/1 and as short as 8/1 without moving from his horse box. And, as I commented back in October, if I owned her I’d be aiming Apple’s Jade here rather than down the mares route. Perhaps if she can beat Nicholls Canyon to win the Hatton’s Grace this weekend that might become more of a thought in the minds of the O’Learys? She can currently be backed at 14/1.
Penhill 18/1 (now 12/1)
Unowhatimeanharry 8/1 (now 8/1)
Apples Jade’s movements hold the key to this race, which at time of writing is still the target for the daughter of Saddler Maker. If you wanted an each-way poke you could do a lot worse than back Let’s Dance at 11/1. This is almost certainly going to be her target at Cheltenham over an ideal distance and she obviously has festival form too after her demolition job in the Mares Novices last term. She’ll bounce back from the fall on her seasonal reappearance the other week and if Apple’s Jade is diverted to the Stayers then could even be favourite come March with doubts surrounding Vroom Vroom Mag at the moment.
Apples Jade 3/1 (now 3/1)
Let’s Dance 11/1
Arkle Novices Chase
The face of the Arkle market has been shaken up somewhat since I penned my original piece after the impressive chasing debuts of Footpad and Brain Power. The Mullins horse was particularly good when hacking up at Navan but 6/1 seems very short at this stage, especially when you consider the rival he beat by 11 lengths, Brelade, was beaten just as easily (by seven lengths on the snaff) by my selection, Petit Mouchoir a month earlier. You can get double the price for De Bromhead’s charge, who was rated 164 over hurdles, seven pounds higher than Footpad’s peak mark.
As for my other original selection, Tombstone, I think it’s fair to say he won’t be winning the Arkle. Beaten twice over two miles since beginning his chasing career, it seems he just isn’t going to fulfil the promise he showed in his novice hurdle days. I wouldn’t be surprised though if he emerges as a good contender for something like the Plate, a race that Gigginstown won last season with Road to Respect.
Petit Mouchoir 14/1 (now 12/1)
Tombstone 50/1 (now 50/1)
JLT Novices Chase
Finian’s Oscar is one of my strongest fancies for festival glory in March, a view that was only strengthened by his win at Cheltenham last month. Advised at 10/1 he is now a best price 6/1 for the JLT, which could still prove very good value. He would almost certainly be shorter if he target was more certain, but despite Colin Tizzard mentioning the Arkle after that last win, i’d be very surprised if he doesn’t pitch up in this race over the intermediate trip to utilise his speed and stamina.
My other two selections, Sutton Place and Chacun Pour Soi, have yet to be sighted and both remain unchanged in the market.
Finian’s Oscar 10/1 (now 6/1)
Sutton Place 20/1 (now 20/1)
Chacun Pour Soi 33/1 (now 33/1)
RSA Novices Chase
My 16/1 RSA fancy, Monalee, made a very impressive chasing debut at Punchestown two weeks ago over two and a half miles and with a step up in trip on the cards next time out he looks a solid favourite at this stage with most of his market rivals seemingly heading for the JLT. The likes of Death Duty and Yanworth could yet step up in trip of course but at the time of writing the 16/1 looks very nice if you managed to get on. Henry De Bromhead’s charge is now a best price 7/1.
I also advised Give Me A Copper at 25/1 back in October. Paul Nicholls’ winning pointer won a match on his second start chasing last time out, jumping really well at Kempton and winning with much more in hand than the three and a quarter length margin would suggest. Despite this, he’s been pushed out to 33/1, a price I would certainly advise having a couple of quid on considering the doubts about many towards the top of the market turning up in this race.
Monalee 16/1 (now 7/1)
Give Me A Copper 25/1 (now 33/1)
Queen Mother Champion Chase
Wind issues with hot favourite Altior mean that last season’s Arkle champion is now facing a race to be ready in time for this year’s festival. However, he would seem to have every chance of making it and consequently the 7/4 now available could be viewed as generous. I say could as the reality is that he will most likely be that price on the day as he is very likely to face a stiff challenge from either Douvan or Min. I advised the latter at 12/1 in my first festival blog, although the waters have been mudded somewhat by his impressive performance over two and a half miles on his reappearance. A lot of water is yet to go under the bridge before March however and this is one of those situations I suspect where, if they both go there fit and well, we won’t know which race either is going for until the last minute. In saying that, there’s no way Min would be 8/1 on the day if this were to be his final destination. That’s antepost punting!
Altior 6/4 (now 7/4)
Min 12/1 (now 8/1)
The same scenario as explained for the Champion Chase applies to Douvan in the Ryanair. If he went this route, as I still believe he could well do, then he’d be more like odds on than the 12/1 available now. All will hopefully become a bit clearer in the coming months (although I wouldn’t bank on it!).
Of the others I advised, doubts currently surround the future of Vroom Vroom Mag following injury at the end of last season, so she might be one to park for now, while Benie Des Dieux has yet to reappear but remains a very exciting prospect. Is she up to Ryanair class? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, another of the Mullins brigade whom I’m delighted to hear is on the road back to the track is Killultagh Vic. A couple of months ago he was spoken of as being a possible for the Foxhunters after spending time recovering from injury with Colin McGratney, but now back in full training with Mullins it seems he has retained much of his old ability and will be aimed at loftier targets. If he does retain the kind of ability that saw him beat Thistlecrack then he is a serious festival contender and the Ryanair would seem the obvious race. He can currently be backed at 20/1.
Douvan 10/1 (now 12/1)
Vroom Vroom Mag 20/1 (now 20/1)
Benie Des Dieux 25/1 (now 25/1)
Killultagh Vic 20/1
There have been contrasting reactions to Thistlecrack’s comeback run over hurdles at Newbury. Some say he travelled well for most of the contest and just got tired, as he was entitled to, on his return from injury. Others, however, have reacted much more negatively and claim he’s no longer the same horse. I’m leaning towards the former, although admit that to be beaten as far as he was was indeed a concern. The bookmakers though have overreacted in pushing him out as much as to 14/1 for the Gold Cup. There’s every chance that he can bounce back in the King George, and if he can it will make a mockery of that price for the big one in March.
Thistlecrack 6/1 (now 14/1)
More of That 100/1 (now 100/1)