Friday fancies

3.10 Newton Abbot – Ballyoptic 3/1 (NAP)

3.35 Newmarket – September 15/2ew

3.45 Newton Abbot – Flying Angel 3/1

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Cheltenham Festival 2018 Antepost 

OK, call me brave or stupid but I decided that with the core jumps season now pretty much upon us I would pin my colours to the mast and put in black and white who I think will be tasting glory at Cheltenham in March for all of the major races, as well as offering up some of the value worth snaffling early doors. I’ll then review how we’re doing as the season goes on.

Supreme Novices Hurdle

The race that kicks off the Festival and for that reason arguably the most exciting of the week. Obviously very difficult to get any sort of handle on at this stage, with most of the main protagonists having never even jumped a hurdle, but I do have two selections whom I think will take high rank this season. The first of these is Getabird, who is pretty much a forgotten horse after getting injured before last year’s Festival but may well have gone into the bumper as favourite had he made it. The Willie Mullins  son of Getaway won both of his outings impressively, showing a great turn of foot in the first that suggests he has the speed for the 2m opener. He also has stamina in his locker though, having won a point over 3m, so as with a lot of these selections there is always the danger he could go for another race, but that’s the risk you take at this stage if you want a nice price. Rich Ricci has had lots of success in the Supreme down the years with Douvan, Vautour and Champagne Fever and Getabird is likely to be his biggest chance to adding to that list. At 25/1 he is surely worth a couple of quid.

The other one I like at the current prices is Dortmund Park, who is with Gordon Elliott and will run in the Gigginstown maroon and white. Currently available at 50/1, he was a seven-lengths winner of the French champion bumper (the Grand Prix Des APQS) and cost his new connections €230,000 in July.

Getabird 25/1 & Dortmund Park 50/1

Neptune Novices Hurdle

He didn’t contest the championship bumper races at Cheltenham or Punchestown but a good case can be made that Samcro was the most impressive animal that we saw in the graduation national hunt category last season, certainly in the top two alongside Fayonagh. He was a three-time winner last term, a series of wins which culminated in a 17-length destruction job at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival, but promises to be better still with something to jump. A son of Germany, like a certain previous Neptune winner in the shape of Faugheen, Gordon Elliott’s charge has the perfect mix of speed and stamina you need for this race and won’t be 16/1 for long as soon as he steps out onto the racecourse.

Another one in Gordon Elliott’s yard worth following at an even bigger price is Poli Roi. Third in the Punchestown champion bumper, he was a winner at Navan before that but was always going to be better over timber and eventually fences. A ten-length winning pointer last November, he cost Gigginstown £300,000 and is expected to take high rank in novice hurdles this term.

Samcro 16/1 & Poli Roi 33/1

Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle

This time last year I was all over one horse for the Albert Bartlett, Blow by Blow, but it proved to be a frustrating year for the son of Robin Des Champs as he never reached the race track due to injury. He’s reported to be back cantering now by trainer Gordon Elliott and should be seen this side of Christmas in a maiden hurdle. I haven’t lost faith in him and believe he can still be a major star of the game. His performance in beating Moon Racer and Bacardys to win the 2016 Punchestown champion bumper, leading from flag fall to finish line, was one of the highlights of that year’s festival and showed that he has a serious engine. I think he’s tailor made for the stamina sapping test that is the Albert Bartlett and at 25/1 he’s the one for me.

Blow by Blow 25/1

 

Champion Hurdle

Buveur D’air was a very impressive winner of the premier 2m hurdles race of the season in March, of that there can be no doubt, however if you step back and look at it then it has to be admitted that it was not a vintage contest. Missing through injury were the winners from the two previous years, Faugheen and Annie Power, while the likes of My Tent or Yours and The New One were a shadow of their former selves despite, especially in Tent’s case, running gallant races. This is to take nothing away from Buveur, but you can be sure that he will face a far sterner test if he is to defend his crown. Defi Du Seuil was imperious in the juvenile division last term and is without doubt a contender, although it is notoriously difficult for Triumph horses the following season.

The two I like, and I’m taking a bit of a gamble with both, are the Mullins pair Faugheen and Yorkhill. Little needs to be said about either but the vibes are that Faugheen is back in good shape and if he is back to the same horse that he was at the start of 2016 then he is going to take some stopping. It will be fascinating to see him in the Morgiana next month (his intended return race) and if he shows he is back to himself then you can wave goodbye to the 8/1 currently on offer. Then there’s Yorkhill, one of the sport’s biggest enigmas and a winner at the last two Festivals. He could well stay chasing but the vibes are that he may well revert back to hurdles with owner Graham Wylie reported as saying “we think he’s a better hurdler than a chaser” while Mullins himself was talking about him as a Champion Hurdle horse even before this year’s Festival. You can get 12/1 at the moment and I think it’s worth the risk having a punt. I think he would be the most serious rival to Faugheen if both lined up – and what a contest that would be!

Faugheen 8/1 & Yorkhill 12/1

Stayers Hurdle

Penhill‘s win in the Albert Bartlett in March was one of my highlights of 2017, having backed him at 16/1 following his win at Limerick over Christmas. The 3m trip has been the making of him for me and he can continue his rise in the senior staying ranks this term, in what looks a division lacking a star like Big Bucks and Thistlecrack of years gone by. At 18/1 he is surely worth a poke, while the other contender I feel has a good chance of avenging his defeat in this year’s race is Harry Fry’s Unowhatimeanharry. I have to admit it took me a while to accept he was the real deal, but the clincher for me was his performance at Punchestown when he outbattled Nichols Canyon – the pair of them 18 lengths clear of the rest. His defeat in last year’s Stayers at the Festival was his only reverse in ten races and he surely will be a major contender again this time around.

Penhill 18/1 & Unowhatimeanharry 8/1

Mares Hurdle

This was one of the races of the 2017 Festival as Apples Jade repelled the twin Mullins attack from Vroom Vroom Mag and Limini and I can’t see any reason that she won’t make it back-to-back wins in 2018. If she were mine I’d certainly be aiming her at the Stayers but it seems the same route as last year is the most likely one, even if I wouldn’t be piling into her at 3/1 at the moment.

Apples Jade 3/1

Arkle Chase

There can be few better sights than seeing chasers at full pelt around two miles of Prestbury Park and there have been some amazing winners of the Arkle down the years – Moscow Flyer, Sizing Europe, Simonsig, Douvan, Sprinter Sacre and of course the 2017 winner, Altior. Whether we will see anything of that class win next year remains to be seen and at this early stage it looks as though it is doubtful with most of the contenders at the top end of the betting unlikely to take their place come March – Defi Du Seuil, Finians Oscar, Melon, Sutton Place, Yanworth. Finians is the one out of that bunch who could still turn up, but I remain convinced that he’ll be going for the JLT, even though he obviously isn’t short of the speed for the shorter race. With all of this taken into account last season’s Irish Champion Hurdle winner, Petit Mouchoir looks the most likely candidate and the current 14/1 available is well worth taking. The grey had a brilliant campaign last term, winning two grade ones before finishing third in the Champion Hurdle, and could be better going chasing. Henry De Bromhead is a master at eking out improvement over the bigger obstacles and has won this race before with the great Sizing Europe.

I also think Paul Nicholls’ Movewiththetimes is potentially interesting in this division – last year’s Betfair Hurdle runner-up is available at 25/1 – and I’ve already in a previous blog made my claims for why Tombstone is a good bet at 50/1. Yes, he was beaten on his chasing debut but I thought he jumped well and with race fitness on his side I’d certainly be backing him against Bamako Moriviere when they meet next time. It’s very early days and Tombstone can still make his mark this season.

Petit Mouchoir 14/1 & (previously advised) Tombstone 50/1

JLT Novices Chase

Finian’s Oscar had a remarkable breakthrough season last term, going from winning a point in October to winning the Grade 1 Tolworth at the turn of the year and then another top level contest, the Mersey Novices Hurdle, at Aintree. He finished the campaign rated 151 over hurdles but there is every reason to think he will be even better over fences and the JLT is a race that is tailor made for him. Reported to have schooled well, which is no surprise considering his pointing background, he is not sort of speed and literally oozes class, akin to previous winners of this race Yorkhill and the late great Vautour. This could well be a stepping stone to a crack at the Gold Cup in 2019 and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he is spoken of as one of the best chasers in recent years in due course – he’s very exciting.

As we know from the build-up to this year’s festival, it’s not always plain sailing and injuries happen. So I have two backup options who are also worth keeping an eye on. Gordon Elliott’s Sutton Place is another horse with bags of potential and a winner of five of his seven starts under rules, including a Grade 2 last term. He was pulled up on his last start, at Punchestown, but you can draw a line through that and he’s reported to be in good order. The other one worth following in this division is the lesser known Chacun Pour Soi. The Willie Mullins French import has yet to appear for his new trainer but showed some smart form back in his homeland, including a staying on third behind the well-regarded King’s Socks over fences in 2016. He’s been put forward by owner Rich Ricci as his horse to follow this season and can currently be backed at 33/1.

Finian’s Oscar 10/1, Sutton Place 20/1 & Chacun Pour Soi 33/1

RSA Novices Chase

As well as the aforementioned Petit Mouchoir, another exciting new recruit to the chasing game this season for Henry De Bromhead is Monalee. Runner up behind Penhill in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, the six-year-old is a certainty to go for this race if fit and will go there as one of the leading contenders alongside the likes of Yanworth and Bacardys. At 16/1 he’s my current idea of the winner, while at 25/1 I’m also keen to take a chance on Paul Nicholls’ Give Me A Copper. A winner over two of his three races over hurdles last season, he was always going to be a better chaser having been a winning pointer in Ireland. Mightily impressive when winning his maiden hurdle by 14 lengths at Exeter in December, he’s definitely one to look out for in a race Nicholls landed with Denman in 2007.

Monalee 16/1 & Give Me A Copper 25/1

Queen Mother Champion Chase

Altior v Douvan is the showdown that everyone wants to see this season but I have a feeling it may not happen. The Ricci/Mullins axis have always opted to go for races they can win rather than those they face more of a battle to win and with this in mind don’t be surprised if Douvan gets stepped up in trip and ends up in the Ryanair, a race won so brilliantly in the past by another horse in those pink colours – Vautour. In addition, don’t forget that they have another genuine contender in the shape of Min, who would have seriously tested Altior if he would have made it to the Arkle last time. Indeed, for me Min at 12/1 is most definitely the bet in this division with Altior prohibitively priced at 6/4. If Min does end up as the main Mullins contender then he’ll be a fair bit shorter than 12/1 come the new year and as an each way play would look a very solid option. Of course, the likelihood is that Altior will follow in former stablemate Sprinter Sacre’s footsteps and follow up an Arkle success with one in this race and he has to be the selection, if not the bet at this stage.

Altior 6/4 & Min 12/1

Ryanair Chase 

As just touched upon, I fancy Douvan to step up in trip this term and if he does then the 10/1 currently available for the Ryanair looks a very tasty bet. He has always travelled so well in his races that you get the feeling the extra half a mile wouldn’t bother him and he would surely be a strong favourite if he did turn up here. From an antepost betting perspective the other angles I like for this race both come from the same ownership as Douvan, namely Vroom Vroom Mag and Benie Des Dieux. The former has been a stalwart for the stable over the past few years and actually made her mark over fences before her recent exploits over the past couple of seasons on the bigger stage over hurdles. She’s a brilliant jumper and is likely to return to chasing this term. With her mares allowance she would definitely be a contender. The same applies to the much less exposed Benie Des Dieux, who put up one of the performances of last season when hacking up at Limerick over Christmas on debut for Willie Mullins. A setback meant that we didn’t see her again last term but she’s a fascinating prospect this time around and at 25/1 is worth throwing a couple of quid at.

Douvan 10/1, Vroom Vroom Mag 20/1 & Benie Des Dieux 25/1

Gold Cup

The blue riband event of the week, Sizing John prevailed in March but rather like Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle, it was a contest weakened by the absence of some of the big guns. One of those is Thistlecrack who looked like an absolute monster over fences until he was beaten in that epic battle with the much missed Many Clouds. He subsequently missed the Festival through injury but is reportedly back to fitness and if back in the form that saw him win the King George I think he’ll take a lot of beating come Gold Cup day.

You might say I’m crazy with my next selection, but I was amazed to see More of That priced up at 100/1. Last year’s sixth in the race may have had his fair share of problems but that price is surely an insult. A lot can happen between now and March so the former Stayers Hurdle champion, and only horse to beat Annie Power outside of that fall, got to be worth a small each way nibble.

Thistlecrack 6/1 & More of That 100/1

Sunday selections 

2.15 Limerick – Fabulous Saga 5/4

2.40 Kelso – Beyond the Clouds 11/8

2.55 Uttoxeter – Palmers Hill 7/4

3.20 Limerick – Irish Bulletin 12/1ew

3.55 Limerick – Some Plan 9/4

4.20 Kelso – Forest Bihan 5/2 (NAP)

4.25 Limerick – Alpha Des Obeaux 9/1ew

5.15 Navan – Neverushacon 28/1ew

Galway – Day 4

A disappointing third day of the Galway Festival for blog followers with Exchange Rate’s win being the only real high point, even though Shaneshill did get us some place money in the Plate. There were some hard luck stories too with Dean’s Road massively inconvenienced by the fall of Devil’s Bride two out in the big race of the day, when seemingly just coming to challenge, while Bayan in the last met all kinds of trouble and was never able to get a run to get into contention.

I hope you’re already on Max Dynamite for Thursday’s big race, the Galway Hurdle, as he’s now as short as 7/2 (advised here at 9/1 last week). I’ve already given my reasons why he should go well, but just to add that the predicted soft going shouldn’t inconvenience him too much, with previous winning form on his CV on such ground. With Zubayr not declared because of the going, my second vote goes to arguably my favourite horse in training, Swamp Fox. He has already finished second at the track earlier this week on the Flat and even though his mark is high enough over hurdles now he never seems to run a bad race and has to be worth a punt at 16/1.

While long-time king of Ballybrit Dermot Weld is still waiting for his first winner, one former Weld inmate has already won this week (Robbie McNamara’s Cascavelle) and another could rub further salt into the wounds, with Don’t Tell No One a very tentative pick in the first race of the day. 

Townshend is favourite for the Grade 3 novice chase at 2.15, but I fancy the other Willie Mullins runner, Rathvinden, at a bigger price. He was rated 16 pounds higher than his stablemate over hurdles and even though it could be argued that Townshend looks much improved for the switch to chasing, Rathvinden looked to be really getting the hang of the bigger obstacles last time out when an impressive 12-length winner at Wexford. He also gets a nice seven pounds from the market leader today. 

At 2.50 Knockmaole Boy is taken to follow up his maiden win on Tuesday, while Jessica Harrington’s Drumfad Bay is the pick in the listed 7f race at 3.25. Both are far from confident however and my advice would be only minimal stakes on these two contests, as well as the already mentioned opener.

I’m much more confident about the chances of Lac Kivu following up his Punchestown romp from a couple of months back in the 2m 4f novice hurdle at 4.00. Now we could be watching a star in the making here as this four-year-old looked a class act when winning in May. He easily beat Cinema De Quartier by 13 lengths, a horse that next time out won by 17 lengths himself. Third at Punchestown was Someday, one of the smartest bumper horses of last season, while fourth was Immortal Bridge, who subsequently won twice. And it goes on, as the seventh finisher, Major Destination, also went on to win afterwards, so it’s fair to say that was a pretty decent race. Lac Kivu won’t have things all his own way however as this is a stern test of his credentials, with Bhutan in particular lining up as a formidable opponent. 

At 5.15 Camlann can win at the track where he was third twice at last year’s festival. Shark Hanlon’s six-year-old is one of the toughest horses around and is likely to be seen twice again this week, with his first assignment being this 1m 4f handicap on the Flat. He arrives in grand form having been placed in his last eight races, all of which were over hurdles, and has won on heavy so won’t mind the deteriorating ground, if it does get really soft. Pat Smullen takes the ride and he looks to have a cracking chance.

Indeed it promises to be a strong end to the day as I’m really keen on the chances of Peacocks Secret in the concluding bumper, wearing the same colours as Camlann of owners the Mee family – the green and purple halves made famous by Hidden Cyclone. Peacocks Secret is a new addition to the Mee collection following a narrow defeat at Wexford in May and two close-up third place finishes before that. Patrick Mullins is in the saddle for cousin Emmet and he can visit the winners enclosure again here with main rival Dayna Moss running for the second time in four days. 

Selections:

1.40 – Don’t Tell No One 6/1ew

2.15 – Rathvinden 8/1ew

2.50 – Knockmaole Boy 9/2ew

3.25 – Drumfad Bay 8/1ew

4.00 – Lac Kivu 5/6

4.35 – Max Dynamite (previously advised at 9/1ew) & Swamp Fox 16/1ew

5.15 – Camlann 3/1 (NB)

6.00 – Peacocks Secret 13/8 (NAP)

Station can reopen for business at Kilbeggan 

We come into today on the back of a nice treble smashed in yesterday at Killarney, the highlight being Swamp Fox. He’s been such a legend for me over the past couple of years and following this latest win at 8/1 off top weight surely the Galway Hurdle has to be the target. I’ll be backing him as soon as the market opens. 

We got a bit lucky regarding Clondaw Warrior after his race was declared void because of what was essentially a false start by ‘winner’ Stars Over The Sea. I obviously wasn’t complaining as it gave me a fourfold payout and enhanced my trebles, but surely there has to be some consistency here. You see horses snatching a sneaky lead at flagfall all the time, yet this is the first time I’ve ever known them to look back at it and void a result. Does this mean they’ll be doing it all the time now? No, of course they won’t. Consistency, that’s all we want.

Back to the racing and today’s focus is on this evening’s card at Kilbeggan. As I’ve pointed out here before recently, Willie Mullins has got quite a few sub-standard (for his high standards) bumper horses at the moment, yet Mystic Theatre isn’t one of those and she should make a winning start over timber to kick off proceedings. I also fancy Mullins to get another winner with Screaming Rose in the 8.00, who was a narrow second on her chasing debut but can go in second time now stepping up in trip.

Joseph O’Brien was in flying form at Killarney yesterday with a treble and his son of Galileo, Monarch can get a deserved first jumping success at 6.25 after bumping into one on each of his previous three starts. The 6.55 is a very interesting race, meanwhile, and one that had me a bit torn between favourite Zanjabeel and Margaret Mullins’ Logical Song. They’ve had 10mm of rain overnight and with more to come I’m siding with the latter, who was consistently running well in handicaps last winter and certainly won’t mind if it turns soft.

Gordon Elliott might miss out on that one but I think it’s worth backing his Station Closed at a tasty 14/1 in the 7.25. Something must have been amiss last time out when she was pulled up after not going a yard at Bellewstown, but if you draw a line through that run this nine-year-old has been really progressive, winning three of her previous four starts. She’s ten pounds higher than the last of those, but won that race at Downpatrick with such authority that you feel this mark isn’t beyond her. Although it might not be her favourite surface, she has been placed before on soft (if that’s the way it goes) and she has the red-hot Davy Russell in the saddle, who is currently operating on a 31% win rate from 29 rides over the past two weeks.

And another one I’m prepared to take a chance on at a big price is Marinero in the evening’s big race, the Midlands National at 8.30. At first glance you might say that he’s been badly out of form but if you look at the company he’s been keeping he was a two-length second to Rashaan over hurdles two starts ago and his last completed chase run was in the Grade 1 Mildmay at Aintree. He was also deemed good enough to run in the RSA at Cheltenham when unseating and last November finished just three lengths behind none other than Thistlecrack, who for what it’s worth I think will win the 2018 Gold Cup. Marinero also has previous winning form on soft and the very competent JJ Sleven taking off five pounds. Basically I think he’s well worth an each way punt at 20/1.

Recommendations (all Kilbeggan):

5.50 Mystic Theatre 4/9

6.25 Monarch 13/8 (NAP)

6.55 Logical Song 7/2

7.25 Station Closed 14/1ew

8.00 Screaming Rose 5/4

8.30 Marinero 20/1ew