Cheltenham Festival ante-post selections

So, with just a week to go now (a week, goddammit!) I thought that it might be handy to put links to all my recent Festival ante-post blogs in one place. Obviously, since I wrote them some fancies have fallen by the wayside, but that’s the nature of the beast. As well as that, below are my selections for every race, with some decent value still available. Prices given are the best NRNB ones available.

SUPREME NOVICES HURDLE: Mister Fisher 10/1 (advised at 33/1); Itchy Feet 25/1 (advised at 33/1); The Big Bite 40/1 (advised at 66/1)

BALLYMORE NOVICES HURDLE: Brewin’upastorm 10/1 (advised at 33/1)

ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES HURDLE: Dickie Diver 8/1 (advised at 14/1)

MARES NOVICES HURDLE: Epatante 9/4 (NAP of the meeting)

Click here for my novice hurdles blog from February, which all still stands apart from Danny Kirwan, who misses the Festival.

CHAMPION HURDLE: Espoir D’allen 16/1ew (advised at 16/1ew… not confident he’ll win but easily the each-way value bet if one of the big three underperform)

STAYERS HURDLE: Faugheen 5/1 (advised at 9/1)

MARES HURDLE: Benie Des Dieux 11/10 (advised at 7/4)

Click here for my blog on the above races from last month.

ARKLE NOVICE CHASE: Kalashnikov 10/1

JLT NOVICE CHASE: Defi Du Seuil 7/2; Vinndication 8/1 (advised at 33/1)

RSA NOVICE CHASE: Santini 7/2 (advised at 12/1); Topofthegame 4/1 (advised at 25/1)

NATIONAL HUNT CHASE: Ballyward 7/2

Click here for my blog on the novice chasers written in September. A fair bit has changed since then but I’m sticking with Kalashnikov in what looks an average Arkle, while Santini and Topofthegame are both looking good for the RSA.

CHAMPION CHASE: Altior 2/5

RYANAIR CHASE: Un De Sceaux 7/1

GOLD CUP: Al Boum Photo 14/1; Might Bite 14/1

ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE: Give Me A Copper 13/2 (advised at 7/1) ; Minella Rocco 10/1 (advised at 10/1)

CLOSE BROTHERS HANDICAP CHASE: Highway One O One 14/1 (advised at 14/1) ; A Plus Tard 10/1

CORAL CUP: Killultagh Vic 25/1 (advised at 25/1); Cracking Smart 14/1 (advised at 20/1); Brio Conti 14/1; Vision Des Flos 16/1

CROSS COUNTRY CHASE: Tiger Roll 11/10 ; Josies Orders 7/1

FRED WINTER (BOODLES) JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE: Surin 14/1

BUMPER: Blue Sari 4/1

PERTEMPS FINAL: Samburu Shujaa 10/1 (advised at 12/1)

BROWN & ADVISORY PLATE: Count Meribel 25/1; Spiritofthegames 10/1

KIM MUIR AMATEURS CHASE: Cogry 33/1

TRIUMPH HURDLE: Sir Erec 21/20

COUNTY HURDLE: Lisp 25/1; Leoncavallo 25/1 (advised at 33/1); Pingshou 33/1 (advised at 33/1)

FOXHUNTERS: Shantou Flyer 9/1; Wonderful Charm 14/1

GRAND ANNUAL: Magic Saint 7/1 (advised at 20/1); Diakali 40/1 (advised at 40/1)

MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONALS HURDLE: Early Doors 20/1 (advised at 20/1)

Click below for my three handicap blogs from last month.

Part one

Part two

Part three

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Cheltenham Festival ante-post: Early handicap fancies (part two)

Following my blog the other day featuring some of those worth a look for the handicaps at next month’s Cheltenham Festival (click here to read), here are three more who are worth a NRNB dabble…

FRED WINTER JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE

A race won by 33/1 shots in the past two editions, in Veneer of Charm and Flying Tiger, there’s a horse I like at double figure odds who might have just crept under the radar a bit for this year’s renewal. 2017 winner Flying Tiger was trained by Nick Williams, who also had the third home the previous year in the form of Coo Star Sivola, so it’s a race the Williams clan like. This year Jane Williams has set out on her own and it is under her training that we find Montestrel, a horse who can currently be backed at 16/1 with the NRNB insurance.

This French recruit had never seen a racetrack before when he lined up at Chepstow in October, yet he put up a very impressive debut display to beat Paul Nicholls’ Quel Destin by one and a half lengths – the pair of them ten lengths clear of Elysees in third. Since that race the Nicholls horse has won four on the bounce, including the Grade 1 Finale last time out, while Elysees won his next two and was second in the third, behind Quel Destin in the Summit Hurdle at Doncaster in December.

Montestrel was next seen when starting favourite in the Triumph trial at Cheltenham in November, but was reported to have never been travelling by jockey Lizzie Kelly when coming home a well beaten sixth of six. He’s certainly worth another chance if back on song and has an entry at Taunton next week when he will hopefully show his true form.

GRAND ANNUAL

Traditionally the Festival finale, this year this two mile cavalry charge is the penultimate race of the four day extravaganza. It’s a contest that Paul Nicholls has enjoyed success in over recent years, winning in 2016 and 2018 with Solar Impulse and Le Prezien and he may well have a lively contender this year too with Magic Saint. Trained by the legendary Guillaume Macaire during his time in France, this five-year-old was a major eye-catcher on his British debut at Haydock in November when travelling like a dream before not getting home over the 2m 5f trip and beaten for stamina by Activial. Dropping back a couple of furlongs for his next start, at Ascot, he was never able to get into a race ran at a furious gallop by all the way leader Hell’s Kitchen after being held up at the back for much of the contest. I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen the best of this horse yet and it will be interesting to see him over two miles if he takes his chance at Wincanton this weekend. It could well turn out to be his optimum trip and if it does then the Grand Annual is surely his next likely target, a race he can be backed for at 20/1 NRNB.

Another possible for this race available at the same price is Chesterfield, surely one of the most reliable and consistent horses in training. Seamus Mullins’ nine-year-old won the 2017 Scottish Champion Hurdle, finished a close third in the same race last year and was fourth in last season’s County Hurdle at the Festival. His first season over fences has seen him win one of his three starts so far, but his close up third behind Dolos and another of my Cheltenham handicap fancies, Highway One O One, at Carlisle in November doesn’t read too badly. The trainer has been making noises that he prefers an Arkle bid over the Grand Annual but I hope he sees sense and aims for the race he has a realistic chance of winning. If he does he’s a big price and is also one to keep in mind for the Red Rum at Aintree, a track and meeting he won at in 2017.

Cheltenham Festival ante-post: Early handicap fancies

Thought I’d share a few who I think look interesting with regards to the handicaps at Cheltenham next month, a week ahead of the entries being revealed and with just a month to go now until the Festival itself.

ULTIMA CHASE

The price has gone now to be honest, with the 20/1 available a couple of weeks ago well and truly snapped up, but I think Give Me A Copper has big claims of landing this one for Paul Nicholls. Now best priced 7/1 if you want the NRNB insurance, this is a horse that was entered for this year’s Gold Cup and I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually was in the lineup for next year’s race. Very lightly rated for his nine years, this son of Presenting had the perfect prep at Sandown at the start of the month when fourth and should come on a bundle for that run. Rated 145, he could well turn out to be very well handicapped indeed.

Another one who could turn up here after a disappointing season is White Moon. I had high hopes for Colin Tizzard’s grey at the start of the campaign but for whatever reason he just hasn’t fired. With that being the case I wouldn’t be surprised to see his sights lowered and him dropping into a handicap at the Festival. This is a race that would suit trip-wise and 25/1 NRNB is tempting.

CLOSE BROTHERS NOVICES CHASE

Available at 14/1 NRNB with Skybet, Highway One O One looks a cracking each-way bet. Chris Gordon has already nominated it as the target for the seven-year-old, who is rated 143 so won’t have any issues getting in. Ran a great race when second to Kildisart at Cheltenham on trials day after being stepped up in trip for the first time and is a horse with some class about him, having lined up in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad at Christmas and Grade 1 Henry VIII before that this season.

CORAL CUP

Cracking Smart is a horse I’m very interested in with regards to handicaps at the Festival, although guessing which one he’ll go for is the tricky part. Of course, this is the beauty of NRNB but this race would seem to be his most likely destination. Gordon Elliott’s charge has had his fair share of injury issues but is a classy individual, having finished just a length behind Next Destination in last season’s Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas. He made a pleasing enough return in the 3m Christmas Hurdle won by Apples Jade at Leopardstown at Christmas and is definitely one to keep on side. Rated 150, he can currently be backed at 20/1 NRNB.

I also like Joseph O’Brien’s Early Doors for this one, a horse who probably isn’t quite good enough for the Stayers Hurdle but has some top form having finished second in that Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle and third in last year’s Martin Pipe. Rated 143, he can be backed at 16/1 NRNB.

PERTEMPS FINAL

This is one of the most competitive handicaps of the week and a bit of a minefield at this stage but I’ve narrowed it down to two I like, both who have qualified from the same race. The race in question was the qualifier at Cheltenham in October, won by The Mighty Don, a horse that has since ran in two Grade 2s and a Grade 1 and is now rated 150. That day he beat Sykes, getting four pounds, by just a short head. Nicky Martin’s runner hasn’t been seen since although is entered in another qualifier at Haydock this weekend, which one can only assume is serving as a prep for the final. Available at 33/1 NRNB he certainly is worthy of some interest.

Meanwhile, an even more fascinating contender is the horse who finished third in that Cheltenham qualifier – Dawn Raider, trained by none other than Pat Kelly, who has of course won this race twice in the past with Presenting Percy and Mall Dini. Now, his current mark of 123 obviously wouldn’t get him into the final but fear not as both of his previous winners were in a similar situation at this stage of the season before elevating their marks to get in. Looking at today’s entries for the weekend, low and behold Dawn Raider is there, entered at Gowran on Saturday. My advice would be to take the 20/1 NRNB available for the Pertemps now because if he hacks up at the weekend that will most certainly be gone.

COUNTY HURDLE

There are three who look particularly interesting to me here. I landed a touch a couple of years ago when Arctic Fire won this race off top weight and I’m hoping it could be the same story with Vision Des Flos this year. Colin Tizzard has stated that he is likely to aim at handicap with the six-year-old, admitting that he’s just short of Champion Hurdle class, and this would surely be the obvious race. Second, just two lengths behind Buveur D’air, in the Contenders Hurdle earlier this month he would be a classy entry if he takes his chance here and can be backed at 16/1 NRNB with Skybet.

Available at 20/1 meanwhile is Alan King’s Lisp, a horse that has been the model of consistency this season, having followed up victory on his seasonal return at Fontwell with second place finishes in the listed Gerry Feilden, just half a length behind Champion Hurdle bound Global Citizen, and the ultra competitive Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot, when coming home ahead of Western Ryder and Tolworth second Grand Sancy. That’s top class form in anyone’s book and he must be better than a 20/1 shot here after a proposed dart at the rearranged Betfair Hurdle this weekend first.

Finally, at 33/1 I also like the claims of Dr Richard Newland’s Leoncavallo, who has unfortunately been forced to miss the Betfair Hurdle because of the rules regarding flu vaccinations within the last six months. This is a horse that was third in the Galway Hurdle last summer, less than four lengths behind Sharjah, and he looks overpriced under a trainer who knows how to land a big handicap.

Click here for more handicap fancies

Cheltenham Festival ante-post update: Champion Hurdle, Stayers and Mares

CHAMPION HURDLE

From looking like a walkover for Buveur D’air, this year’s Champion Hurdle has now turned into one of the races of the Festival. The prospect of Apples Jade taking on the duel champion is one to relish and add the still relatively unknown quantity of Laurina to the mix and you have the recipe for one of the best renewals in years.

In terms of ante-post value however the joker in the pack could be Espoir D’allen. Gavin Cromwell’s five-year-old probably doesn’t have enough to win the opening day feature but if he lines up does have claims of breaking into the first three, so the 16/1 NRNB available with Coral does hold some appeal. If you draw a line through his lacklustre performance at Leopardstown last February, when he clearly wasn’t right, he is unbeaten in his other eight runs in France and Ireland. It’s fair to say he hasn’t faced anything of the calibre of Buveur D’air and Apples Jade but he’s passed every test so far and I’d be confident he will put on a bold show.

STAYERS’ HURDLE

Following his performance in the Cleeve it’s difficult to look beyond Paisley Park, although the best price 9/4 holds little appeal. Fortunately your’s truly is on at 10/1 and I hope some of you took some early value too about Emma Lavelle’s stable star. There can be no doubt he’s the best of the British contenders but it’s very dangerous to forget about the Irish, including last year’s winner Penhill, who looks like taking a similar path to 12 months ago and going straight there. 11/2 NRNB looks more than fair.

There’s no doubt the most popular winner would be Faugheen and I don’t think it’s beyond the realms of possibility as he seemed to be giving Apples Jade a good race when falling at Leopardstown at Christmas. We all know how he obliterated a good field, including Penhill, at Punchestown over three miles at the end of last season too. The former Champion Hurdler can be backed at 9/1 NRNB.

At a much bigger price, I’d also like to throw the claims of Pallasator into the mix. Available at 40/1, the winner of the Queen Alexandra at Royal Ascot last summer has yet to show his ability on the Flat over hurdles but never had his ideal conditions last season and could be interesting if there’s a sound surface at Cheltenham next month. He was originally set to go novice chasing this term, with the four miler mentioned by Gordon Elliott, but that’s now been put on the back-burner. Staying over timber I think he’d be a lively outsider if he does line up at Prestbury Park and could be worth a few pennies now at huge odds.

And finally, Gordon Elliott’s comments in today’s Racing Post about the possibility of Samcro turning up certainly raise a few eyebrows. He’s available at 8/1 NRNB and if he can return to the form of last season would have to hold every chance, over a distance that would suit far more than the two miles he’s been campaigned over so far this season.

MARES’ HURDLE

With Apples Jade and Laurina both looking Champion Hurdle bound the 7/4 NRNB available with Skybet on last year’s winner Benie Des Dieux could well turn out to be very good value. The Willie Mullins mare, who is set to return next weekend, looks head and shoulders above the rest of the field and could easily start odds on.

Cheltenham Festival ante-post update: Novice Hurdlers

With racing in the UK in an enforced hiatus it seems the ideal time to revisit the Cheltenham ante-post markets to try to search out some of the value out there with just over a month to go.

SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE

Back at the start of October I put forward the chances of Mister Fisher for the Festival opener at 33/1 (read my comments here) and following two wins out of three runs so far this term, Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old is now as short as 9/1. His win at Kempton on Boxing Day, when he had Thomas Darby, The Big Bite and Didtheyleaveuoutto behind him, reads particularly well, although has to be analysed with the caveat that he was receiving weight from them all. Indeed one of those three is, in my view, one of two intended runners who looks to be worth a dabble at bigger prices in what still looks a very open race.

Tom George’s The Big Bite was giving away 8lbs to the winner over Christmas, coming home in fourth, but looked a very smart prospect in winning by a combined 24 lengths in his previous two hurdles outings at Haydock and Chepstow. George, who won the Supreme last year with Summerville Boy, has publicly retained confidence in his charge and I think he has been overlooked in the market. He can currently be backed at an eye-watering 66/1 with Betfair, or 33/1 with the safety net of NRNB with Skybet.

The other one I like at the current prices, who has also gone under the radar a bit, is Itchy Feet. Available at 33/1 (or 25/1 NRNB), Olly Murphy’s runner has some red hot form if you look into it, finishing just over a length behind Elixir De Nutz when giving him 5lbs in his only defeat so far. That rival is as short as 10/1, while Murphy’s charge also has a defeat of Grand Sancy on his CV, who was a close second in the Tolworth behind Elixir De Nutz.

BALLYMORE NOVICES’ HURDLE

Another 33/1 shot I put forward at the start of the season was Brewin’upastorm and I’m more than happy with how things stand with that bet as we edge towards the Festival. We’ll never know but it looked as though he had the measure of Birchdale when falling at the last on Cheltenham trials day and if you haven’t already backed him I’d say the 10/1 NRNB is still a bet worth having.

I also have Battleoverdoyen at 14/1 in my portfolio and would say he certainly looks the best of the Irish challengers, although the 5/1 he is now is a bit short for punting at this stage.

I’m definitely taking on current favourite Champ and at a bigger price, another one I wouldn’t put you off punting with NRNB is Paul Nicholls’ Danny Kirwan (20/1), who I originally put up for the Supreme but is now more likely to head here if he goes to Cheltenham. Beaten by current Supreme favourite Angels Breath, in a race with just four hurdles, at Ascot in December he’s a classy individual who we haven’t seen the best of yet for sure.

ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES’ HURDLE

I was quite sweet on Blackbow for this three-mile test at the start of the season but we still haven’t seen Willie Mullins’ charge and there has to be doubts as to whether he will make the Festival.

Instead, there are two others who look like they will line up who are worth backing at decent prices. The 20/1 NRNB offered on Tom Lacey’s Kateson for me is one of the best ante-post bets currently available for the whole Festival. The horse is only entered in this race, with the trainer stating this is the target, and will go into the race with rock solid form. Second in the big Grade 2 bumper at last season’s Grand National meeting, ahead of Al Dancer and Mister Fisher among others, he won his first two novice hurdles this term in good style before finishing three lengths behind Ballymore favourite Champ in third in the Grade 1 Challow, ahead of Brewin’upastorm. He looks like he’ll appreciate the extra stamina test of the Albert Bartlett and is much better than a 20/1 shot.

The other one I like is Nicky Henderson’s Dickie Diver. I managed to snap up 25/1 on this son of Gold Well after he was beaten a head by Lisnagar Oscar on his rules debut at Chepstow last month, a race in which he was a massive eye-catcher after arguably being given too much to do to catch the winner (something he still very nearly did). An impressive 20-length winner of his point, he forms part of an impressive team of novice hurdlers in the JP McManus colours this season and can be backed at 14/1 NRNB.

Early Saturday fancies for Newbury & Warwick

A few decent prices knocking about for what promises for be a cracking Saturday of jumps action, with the showpiece meetings taking place at Newbury and Warwick. Here are a few that I’ve invested in early…

Newbury

Betfair Bet In-Play Handicap Hurdle: Down The Highway 14/1ew

Betfair Hurdle: Getaway Trump 9/2ew & Splash of Ginge 40/1ew

Betfair Each Way Edge Novices Handicap Chase: Captain Cattistock 11/1ew

Bumper: McFabulous 6/1ew

Warwick

McCoy Contractors Warwick Castle Handicap Chase: Valdez 16/1ew

Dublin Racing Festival ante-post update

Following Tuesday’s latest forfeit stage for this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown the only one of my original ante-post selections not still in the running is Midnight Stroll in the Ladbrokes Hurdle. Below is my new selection for that contest, plus some other new ones for races not mentioned in my previous blogs.

Click here for my previous thoughts on Saturday and Sunday‘s action.

Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle (12.50, Saturday):

Battleoverdoyen is still very much my idea of the winner in the festival opener but at the prices I’d also advise a saver at 12/1 on Willie Mullins’ Come To Me. An impressive winner at Cork in December, the son of Spanish Moon went off at a well backed 4/1 for the Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas before trailing in last after being eased in the run in. Found to be coughing afterwards, if he’s back to full health 12/1 is a big price and I can certainly see him making the frame and possibly even pushing the favourite close.

Ladbrokes Hurdle (3.45, Saturday):

In the absence of Robert Tyner’s Midnight Stroll, I recommend a punt on Tony Martin’s Tudor City, who can currently be backed at 14/1. The seven-year-old has been knocking on the door for the past two seasons in these handicaps and some day soon is going to pick one up. That day might just be this weekend. Fifth in this race last year, he filled the same position in the big handicap at the Christmas festival here and earlier in December got to within half a length of favourite Wonder Laish at Fairyhouse. Meeting that rival on better terms here, he looks a very solid each way bet and is horse who has only been out of the first five over jumps and on the Flat twice in his last 12 runs – the large majority of those being in big field handicaps.

Abbey International Handicap Chase (4.10, Sunday):

I like the chances of two who will be running in the green and gold for JP McManus in this 2m 5f contest. Any Second Now was an above average novice chaser last season, finding only Footpad too good in the Grade 1 at the Leopardstown Christmas festival, while bumping into Monalee earlier in the campaign. This term Ted Walsh’s charge disappointed on his reappearance at Naas but bounced back at Fairyhouse when just chinned on the line by Mortal, 15 lengths clear of the third horse home. Last time out, here in the Paddy Power Chase, he was fifth when starting favourite but would have finished closer if not for a mistake at the last. He can certainly be winning a race like this off a mark of 142 and I can only see him going close at odds of 12/1.

At an even bigger price I also think it’s worth adding Landofhopeandglory to your weekend portfolio. Available at 20/1, Joseph O’Brien’s son of High Chaparral gets into the race off a feather weight of 9st 11lbs and comes here after failing to make the cut for the Thyestes Chase last week. He suffered a disappointing first chase campaign last term after making a promising start with two wins in the summer of 2017 but showed signs of a return to form when fifth at Limerick over Christmas in a race where he was hampered by a faller at the last yet finished eye-catchingly strongly. The forecast good ground will suit nicely and he could well be set to outrun his odds in what looks a wide open contest.

Coolmore N.H. Sires Irish EBF Mares Flat Race (4.40, Sunday):

A chance is taken on Daylight Katie, a mare given a good word by trainer Gordon Elliott at a recent preview show for the festival. This six-year-old cost £110,000 after winning a point last October and has twice gone close in her two starts under rules this season and last time out ran an amazing race considering she got a questionable ride by David Dunsdon. Of course, the truth is that you have to add the jockey to your thoughts when deciding whether to have a punt, but she’s obviously a mare with a big engine and I’m hoping that proves enough for her to go close. She can be backed at 12/1 to send punters home happy.