Darren Fleming brings us five of his ante-post wagers for the up and coming Cheltenham Festival!
For those of you who want a small stakes wager with potentially nice rewards I will be looking to find a bet each day that costs no more than £5 so if you lose you won’t need to sell the family jewels or even cancel your RUK subscription but if the choices are successful you may have enough to pay for you to go to Cheltenham in 2014.
To start with, everyone likes a nice Lucky 15/31 so here is my Lucky 31 for the week:
Un Atout Supreme Tuesday 7-1
Cinder and Ashes Champion Hurdle Tuesday 12 -1
Edeymi Coral Cup Weds 12-1
Catch Me Pertemps Thursday 16-1
First Lieutenant Ryanair Thursday 9-2
At a unit stake of 16p the cost is £4.96
I’ve used Paddy Powers prices, and if these 5 win we are looking at well over £30,000 – good luck!
So Cheltenham is less than three weeks away and no doubt most of you already have a fair idea of which horses you are ready to lump on and which you want to oppose particularly in the major races. I suspect that by now you have probably earmarked a few cleverly campaigned handicappers who look ready to exploit a lenient mark come mid March too.
A recent addition to the festival build up has been the various preview nights around the UK and Ireland where a host of racings leading experts (and a fair few of the racing’s imitation experts) turn up at various venues around the country and give their opinions on the feature races to those anyone willing to listen.
The feedback I have seen for these evenings tends to suggest that people either see them as
1 – A way to get up close and personal to racings elite whilst gleaning valuable information that other people just won’t have access to.
2 – Little more than a PR exercise where racing’s leading trainers trot out the same old lines about their horses whilst keeping the important information to those inside the stable and others involved in the game tip the market leaders without any insight whatsoever.
I have turned up to a few of these recently and I suspect that the truth about these events probably lies somewhere in the middle of these two extreme views.
Without doubt the most enjoyable one I have attended is held at Knaresborough Cricket club a few miles from Harrogate with all proceeds of the evening supporting the junior crickets there.
Despite a round trip of over 50 miles from @Papafleming towers I have been going for 3 or 4 years now. The club is quite small so creates an intimate atmosphere. The interesting and informative panel are never short of an opinion so it can turn out to be a long night so you can be sure that value for money is never an issue!
It features a preview of the major races held on each day along with charity bet and of course the inevitable lay of the meeting.
In recent years James Bridson who organises the event has kindly taken a note of your email address and provided a summary of all the panel’s choices for you to review at your leisure a couple of days after the event which helps of you have forgotten your pen.
If work commitments from my day job allow, I will be there this year so if you fancy an evening of debate and discussions with a panel who clearly spend much of their life going through the form book and watching reruns of races rather than just acquiring an opinion from the spotlight column the racing post then come along.
Alternatively if you just want to the chance to meet a hard working member of the Horse Racing Tavern team in the flesh then what better way to do it!
Knaresborough Cricket Club, Aspin Lane, Knaresborough, HG5 8EP
• Michael Shinners – head odds compiler from Skybet
• Jim McGrath – Channel 4 racing analyst and Ex Timeform
• Nick Robson – The Fox, Racing +
• Paul Jones – Author – Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide
TICKETS ARE PRICED AT £8 PER PERSON
How Do I buy tickets?
PLEASE CONTACT JAMES BRIDSON ON 07887416074 OR firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s been a while since I’ve written a post regarding my racing thoughts, and with Cheltenham now just a matter of weeks away, I thought it would be apt to share my current ante-post bets for the Festival that should, but unfortunately doesn’t, stop the nation.
The Champion Hurdle is a personal favourite, and after tipping up Rock On Ruby last year, I’ve got a hard act to follow. However, this year I feel it could be Hurricane Fly’s year to take back his crown. He’s looked better than ever this year, and bar any last minute panics (like last year), he should take a whole lot of beating. The untimely death of Darlan was no doubt a huge blow, as he looked to be a credible opponent for the current favourite. But onwards and upwards. I’ve nibbled at Zarkandar ante-post as he’s another personal favourite, but at the current price of 5/1, the EW value has been squeezed out of his price. He’ll be staying on strongly up the hill off a strongly run race, but wether it’s enough to cope with Hurricane Fly’s gears is the major doubt. Rock On Ruby hasn’t reproduced the form he showed last year and with new connections this year, he may struggle. Grandouet could be anything and is too much of a risk with only one run this year.
The Neptune is shaping up to be one of the races of the festival, and Pont Alexandre has been ante-post favourite since mopping up in a Grade 2 Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown. The win was visually impressive and Willie Mullins has done nothing but suggest this may be one of the best horses he’s had in training. However I’m happy to take the favourite on, on the basis that the form of that race isn’t strong enough (although the Henry De Bromhead-trained Sizing Gold could turn out to be smart in time). I’m very keen on the chances of the Mouse Morris-trained Rule The World, who was just as visually impressive when beating Minsk (a very solid yardstick) and Champagne Fever out of site. Yes, Champagne Fever didn’t run his race that day (as proven by the fact he reversed the form next time out with Minsk), but Rule The World wasn’t touched that day – he travelled incredibly well throughout the race and was given a mere squeeze by Davy Russell to put the race to bed. He could prove to be a fair bit better on better ground too, and with connections excited about his prospects as a chaser next year, he looks to have plenty in his tank and I’ve been nibbling away at 14′s downwards. He looks to have a great chance to hit the front three in the race if arriving safe and sound. The New One has to be a concern based on the yards bullish comments this week, but at a price of 4/1 the value has all but disappeared.
Sprinter Sacre rates the best win bet of the week, but at 1/4, he certainly isn’t going to make you rich. What does rate as a cracking bet is Sizing Europe EW at 7/1. If turning up for the race (connections currently favour the Ryanair if the going is quicker than soft), there is no doubt he’ll be shorter on the day. I think he’ll be beaten by the better horse on the day, but the Henry De Bromhead charge oozes class with multiple grade one form to his name, and he’ll be giving it his all up the Cheltenham hill.
The Fred Winter looks a poor race by the festival’s standards, but I’m keen to take a punt on Ruacana at 20/1 if he decides on this race as opposed to the Triumph. He is highly regarded by connections and he didn’t travel well when chasing home the smart Our Conor last time out. If he decides to rightly leave the Triumph alone which looks very competitive, he should have the Fred Winter at his mercy. He looks a big price at this risky ante-post stage.
The aforementioned Our Connor looks a very smart type in the Triumph Hurdle, and while much has been made about the soft ground form this season, he could easily improve for a sounder surface, and if there isn’t another gem that’s been kept away fresh, I’m happy with my ante-post wagers. It’s likely he’ll go off shorter on the day, and he could make a competitive looking hurdle race on paper a procession on the day with his superb hurdling ability and turn of foot.
Ahh, the Gold Cup you say. Well I’m a huge Sir Des Champs fan, and I think he looks to have everything in his locker to take the showpiece race of the Cheltenham Festival. Despite jumping poorly and on unfavoured ground, he finished like a train in the Lexus, and his game defeat of Flemenstar next time out highlights the horse’s class. I was on at 7′s after last years foot perfect Jewson performance, and although the EW value has probably gone now, he rates a solid bet. Bobs Worth could turn out to be different gravy, but with so little racing under his belt, I’m happy to take him on at the prices.
So that’s my thoughts so far. Put a gun to my head for the best bet? Our Conor. Best EW bet? Rule The World. Let us enjoy this crescendo to euphoria in the lead up to the Festival. A famous line by Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton on Heroin: “Take the best orgasm you’ve ever had… multiply it by a thousand, and you’re still nowhere near it.” Clearly he’d never been to Cheltenham.
Our resident ante-post tipster is back with a long-priced outsider for the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy on day one of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival!
This time last year, Nicky Henderson trained the short priced favourite for the Arkle; fast forward 12 months and the Seven Burrows chief finds himself in the exact same position thanks to Simonsig; the impressive winner of last seasons Neptune Novices Hurdle. Foolishly as it turned out, I was keen to take on Sprinter Sacre in this race last year, but once bitten twice shy shouldn’t apply to betting, and so equally foolishly perhaps, I believe it’s worth taking on the short priced market leader again this time round, and with far more confidence.
I wouldn’t for one moment suggest Simonsig isn’t a special talent, or that he’s isn’t a worthy favourite, but to be trading at a shade of odds on, I’d want to have seen him do more than simply beat up far inferior rivals, on bottomless ground, in two Grade 2 in name only contests in minimal sized fields. I can’t argue with the way he’s gone about his business over fences; he hasn’t touched a twig at a jump, and he’s won by multiple lengths which until a few years ago would have been described as a distance. However, both those success have come on right handed tracks, one at Ascot the other at Kempton, and while I’m happy to accept Ascot is a fair test of a horse’s ability to jump, Kempton is just about as easy as it gets, and while giving credit to his Ascot performance, it’s nothing compared to the stiffest of tests Cheltenham will provide. We know he handles the course having run away with the Neptune last year, but for all I believe he possesses an abundance of class, he’s very inexperienced, very enthusiastic, and should he make a mistake I don’t believe watching him run, that he’s 100% certain to have the mental maturity to recover. Mistakes at Cheltenham seldom go unpunished, and that’s my primary concern.
My second concern involves the opposition, and one horse in particular; the hugely popular, front running, battled hardened Overturn, who trainer Donald McCain has handled with due care and attention throughout his preparation this season. It’s not so much I believe Overturn will win the race, or is necessarily a safer betting option than the favourite, but last year’s Champion Hurdle runner up is extremely hard to past when enjoying himself in front, and I have my doubts that Simonsig will go through with a complete effort. Cast your mind back to his hurdling career last season, and to Sandown in particular where he cruised up to Fingal Bay on the bridle, but found little for pressure and failed to go past his rival, who was flat out to the boards at the time. If Overturn holds the lead entering the straight, and his own impressive performances over fences this season entitle anyone to suggest that’s a strong possibility, then I’d fancy the McCain horse to get the better of the argument up the hill.
All that said of Overturn I couldn’t back him either; the last 9-year-old to win the Arkle was Danish Flight back in 1988, and you can hardly say he’s lightly raced for his age given his exploits over hurdles, and on the flat. I can’t believe that he won’t get caught by a younger, fresher pair of legs, plus his record around Cheltenham isn’t anything spectacular, and he inevitably finds at least one too good.
So, if that younger horse isn’t to be Simonsig, then we’ve got some tasty looking prices available among the others from which to choose to invest. Arvika Ligionniere will be popular, and should be high on everyone’s list. He’s already twice a Grade 1 winner of Novice chases over in Ireland, and stays a little bit further than this two mile trip, which has been proven to be a useful tool in the conditions the race is run. With a lightening gallop likely to be set by Overturn, he could get the run of things, and if it turns into a battle to the line, he appears to be the one who’ll have most left in the tank. He’s trained by Willie Mullins who certainly knows how to prep a Festival winner, but my one concern is his fall last time out, and more specifically what that might have done to his confidence; you can’t afford to commit half hearted when jumping at pace around Cheltenham, and at a best price of 10/1 he’s another I’d want to leave be. Fago, trained by Paul Nicholls is another who’d fall into that category, and how this horse is being allowed to trade as low as he is currently beggars believe! A winner on his first start over fences in England, in let’s be honest, not a particularly strong Class 4 novice event at Newbury, he then like many a French import before him, hurdled every fence at Warwick in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices Chase last weekend, before his luck ran out, and he made an error which brought his race to a premature end. Connections rate him highly but when do they not? If he were trained by a less fashionable team, he’d be double the price he is, and I think error after error will put paid to his chance early on in the contest.
Beyond the big four in the betting, we enter a minefield of horse who’ve proven themselves not to be natural over fences, not to be quite good enough for this level, and horses with duel entries who may not even line up, but one horse at a big price does catch my eye and that’s the Mouse Morris trained 7-year-old, Baily Green.
At first glance of his form you could say he shouldn’t be good enough; he’s been beaten by Arvika Ligionniere, Oscars Well and Twinlight, all of who look set to reappose here, but he’s not been being beaten far, and at 50/1 he’s worth a small each way investment. Unlike many trading at a fraction of his price, Baily Green has never fallen over fences, has bags of experience, and has shown himself to be extremely progressive this season, winning up to Grade 3 novice chases by multiple lengths. A rise to Grade 2 level brought about his first defeat of the campaign, but he only went down a length to Twinlight on that occasion, and only finished 3 lengths behind Arvika Ligionniere when upped to Grade 1 level last time out. I think to be effective at the very top level Baily Green needs decent ground, or at least better ground than he’s been running on over in Ireland this season. Despite all the rain of late, Cheltenham is an extremely fast draining track, and therefore he could still get his preferred conditions at the Festival, and it’s also worth noting that his sire, Kings Theatre, also sired the likes of Cue Card, Menorah and Riverside Theatre, all of which have shown a decent mix of speed and stamina as they progress, which are ideal weapons to possess in an Arkle. If the big guns all get it right on the day then he’s unlikely to play a part, but should one or two fluff their lines as I suspect might happen, Baily Green looks the type to take advantage.
Recommended Bet : 1pt Each Way – Baily Green @ 50/1 (Generally Available)
Jack Milner brings us his second installment of his 2013 Cheltenham Festival tips with a look at day two of the festival, which sees the likes of warm odds-on favourite Sprinter Sacre and Willie Mullins-trained Pont Alexandre.
The second day is probably the most varied card of the week. Plenty of opportunities to make a few quid ante post here.
The National Hunt Chase
The first race is The National Hunt Chase, and I am very smug and pleased to have backed Teaforthree last year at 14/1, hopefully history repeats itself? A horse who looks an absolute out and out stayer is Vesper Bell for Willie Mullins. It is incredible looking at the market, just how ludicrous some quotes are for horses that are unlikely to run, but 10/1 seems very fair. He is very unexposed, and beat potential Jewson horse Aupcharlie on debut, and has only had seven subsequent starts, the last winning a three mile chase at Punchestown, and looked to have plenty left in the tank, he’s the one for me. Looking at the market, very few look likely to run at the moment, the two obvious possibilities would be Keppols Hill and Rival D’Estruval. Godsmejudge is an interesting one, similar profile, steadily brought along, unexposed and an out and out stayer. At 20/1, he could be a lively outsider.
The Neptune Novices Hurdle
I’ve been a bit of a busy boy here, and already backed a few at decent prices. I flagged up The New One after winning at Cheltenham in October, and William Hill stuck their necks on the line, and went stand out 16/1 – it had to be taken. Even though he was chinned by At Fishers Cross last time out, he still sets a good standard around Prestbury Park, although his current price is a bit short for me. I backed Clondaw Kaempfer prior to his run in The Challow Hurdle, and think he got beaten by the ground more than anything. I’m on him at 16/1, and could be worth another nibble at 20/1, if the reports from Donald McCain are favourable. Pont Alexander and Taquin Du Seuil are two I am opposed, and the last one I have in the arsenal is Puffin Billy. He would be my initial prospect for next year’s RSA Chase, looks a lovely prospect and could be anything. He is the saver at 10/1. I still think The New One is the one to beat on all known form, although Puffin Billy carries maximum respect.
The RSA Chase
I pick two horses to follow based on their hurdling form, and how I think they will revert to fences, and generally come close when it comes to The RSA Chase, last year my two were Grands Crus (6/1) and Bobs Worth (10/1) ante post. The two I sided with this year are Boston Bob and Fingal Bay, both at 10/1. Fingal Bay proved to me to not back Phillip Hobbs horses, but I still like Boston Bob, and his chasing debut showed he has a natural flair for jumping. He wants three miles on good ground, and the 7/1 with Ladbrokes is tempting to back again. Dynaste won’t want a slog or a battle, and is skinny from an ante post perspective, I wouldn’t rule out David Pipe sending him to The Jewson. The rest all have muddling form, Our Father and Hadrians Approach look vulnerable. Willie Mullins will likely send Back in Focus and Aupcharlie elsewhere, and I don’t like Nicholls’s Rocky Creek, Unioniste and Sire Collognes. There isn’t an awful lot out there to beat.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase
Backed Sprinter Sacre in October at 5/4, and he will win by twelve lengths, Sizing Europe second if runs.
The Coral Cup
Again, not one from an ante post perspective, but those who appear well handicapped and likely to run at this moment in time look to be the David Pipe pair of Swing Bowler and Gevrey Chambertin. Both unbeaten hurdling this season, and look to have some lenient marks, with plenty of improvement to come from the stoutly bred duo.
The Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle
Minefield. To sum up. If you’ve had a bet in this, you are clearly in the know. Call Me Bubbles and Fatcatinthehat would be an interesting for Willie Mullins, who look likely to miss other races, and are down the pecking order of his juvenile hurdlers. Definitely not one to get involved in for me at such an early stage.
Another race I try to not get too involved in, as there is more guess work here than at a Derren Brown episode of cloak and dagger, I did have a nibble on Golantilla after his win at Cork at 10/1, but it’s a cautious one, even though he has a massive reputation, and a cracking turn of foot. Moyle Park has form tied in with Blackmail, and both could be lively ones come closer to the day.
Follow Jack on Twitter @JJmSports!
Jack Milner, a.k.a The Yorkshireman, gives us his ante-post thoughts and portfolio for Day One of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival!
The Supreme Novices Hurdle
I wrote pieces on both My Tent or Yours and Waaheb, both prior to their hurdling debuts, and I am still big fans of both. My Tent or Yours has been backed at 25/1, 20/1, 16/1 and 10/1, with Waheeb being taken at 12/1, 10/1, and once again at 16/1 with the drift after his second to Jezki last time out. I still like both, with preference for Nicky Henderson’s charge. He tanks through his races, and will be well suited to the fast pace, and like Waaheb, should improve with better ground. Jezki has run well in muddling graded races in Ireland, and despite being snapped up by JP, still doesn’t appeal at the prices. Nor does Un Atout or River Maigue, very short for winning nothing races last time out. I don’t like Paul Nicholls horses, so would be opposed to Dodging Bullets, and Puffin Billy and Melodic Rendezvous are likely to go for The Neptune instead.
The Arkle Chase
This looks to be a graveyard from an ante post perspective, as my most backed horse, that I really got stuck into, doesn’t even look likely to run. Captain Conan is still the value call for me if runs, and I think he looks a very smart chaser, winning over course and distance already this year, and following up smartly at Sandown. He’s been backed at 14/1, 12/1, 10/1 and 7/1, and would love to see him take on Simonsig. I have also backed Colour Squadron and Sire De Grugy at 20/1 as savers, but it is looking bleak. Looking at the market at the moment now, it is a definite no bet. Simonsig is very short, I don’t think Overturn represents value, with nothing else likely to run. Arvika Ligeonniare fell in the Irish Arkle, and at around the 10/1 mark, if forced to have a bet, that would be the each way play.
The Festival Handicap Chase
I will be sticking with two regular selections of mine, who both ran in the race with credit last year, and both look to be still well handicapped. The Package and Fruity ‘O Rooney look to have been laid out for this race throughout the season, and although no bets at the moment, I could be tempted very shortly.
The Champion Hurdle
I was unimpressed by Hurricane Fly’s run in The Irish Champion Hurdle, it was all so very similar, beating the same horses, by the same margins, it is rather worthless form. The horse I have been backing for the best part of 18 months for this race remains my selection – Grandouet. His re-appearance after a year out in The International was a fantastic run, and bearing in mind he gave a race fit Zarkander 4lb, to lose by two lengths was an excellent effort. He has course form, will relish better ground and a quicker pace, Barry Geraghty will hit the last still on the snaff. Irrespective what happens at Cheltenham aside from this, Grandouet wins, and it’s a happy and profitable Cheltenham. Two small savers are on Darlan and Oscar Whisky, both at 16/1.
The Cross Country Chase
I wouldn’t particularly like to get involved in a race like this, and haven’t done thus far. The two likely to tempt me are Balthazar King and Uncle Junior, both have won over the Cheltenham Cross Country course in the last season, and both have a touch of class, but I won’t be getting involved ante post.
David Nicholson Mares Hurdle
Quevega wins. Lump on the day, no play ante post.
Centenary Novices Chase
I’d be lucky to back the winner on the day, let alone seven weeks before, when the usual suspects, Henderson, Pipe et al, have yet to properly have a plot for this. There are a couple of eye-catchers with entries however. JP has two of them, Colour Squadron and Cantlow. Both look to want further judging by their novices chases, and if they start being nibbled in the market, it would be a very good sign indeed.
The Yorkshireman – Jack Milner
Follow Jack on Twitter – @JJMSports
Supporting Top Jumps Mares in National Hunt Racing
The 3rd OLBG Mare of the Month Award goes to Oliver Sherwood!
Although the weather may have got the better of Doncaster’s Saturday race meeting, it’s looking positive that the Cheltenham Festival Trials Day will go ahead as scheduled. This is great news for Oliver Sherwood; while he has no runners at the meeting, he will be presented with the 3rd OLBG Mare of the Month Award and a £1000 cheque for his stable staff.
The new award was set up for the 2012/13 season and seeks to award the trainer and stable staff of the mare who is deemed to have delivered the most outstanding performance in the selection period. The mare to catch the panel’s eye this month was Mischievous Milly, who won a Listed hurdle at Taunton on 30 December, a maiden hurdle on 10 December and placed on her only two other starts.
‘It’s hugely important what OLBG are doing for mares in racing and I am very appreciative’, Oliver told OLBG. ‘All the staff were very excited when they found out they’d won and I am really pleased they are being rewarded.’
Mischievous Milly was ready to run in the OLBG Doncaster Mares Hurdle tomorrow before the meeting was yesterday abandoned due to snow and frost.
The next selection period is 20 Jan to the 16 Feb. Mares’ performances will be discussed in the OLBG forum where you can sign up free to share your opinion. The winner will be announced 22 February and the presentation will be aired 23 February on C4 Racing.
The Supreme Novices Hurdle kick starts the 2013 Cheltenham Festival and recent history suggests the favourite at race time should be avoided by punters wanting to make a winning start to the week. Last year, Galileo’s Choice finished well down the field, in 2011 Cue Card could finish no better than 4th, Dunguib went one better finishing 3rd in 2010, and it was Cousin Vinny in 2009 who failed to justify ante post support.
The unwanted tag this year looks set to be pinned on Jezki; the Jessica Harrington trained 5-year-old who is unbeaten in his four starts over hurdles to date. This winning sequence includes two Grade 1 contests thanks to victories in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, and the Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on his most recent appearance. The manner in which he won the latter, an effortless six length victory over seemingly decent opposition including the highly regarded pair of Waaheb and Sizing Rio, suggests he’s in a league of his own among Ireland’s batch of two mile novice hurdlers this season, and his price of 4/1 for the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival would appear to be decent value. The form of his victories has been franked countless times, and with connections seemingly confident that he’ll improve should he encounter better ground than soft he’s been experiencing at home come March, he’s going to take all the beating. Two victories at Naas; a left handed, undulating course with an uphill finish, suggests he’ll handle Cheltenham without any problem, and with another outing planned before his big seasonal assignment, he’ll have plenty of experience under his belt and shouldn’t be phased by the occasion. The one concern being highlighted is that he could finish no better than 8th in last season’s Champion Bumper, however a strong performance in that race rarely transfers to the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Cinders & Ashes could only finish 5th before his win last year, and Jezki has already beaten Champagne Fever (who won the Bumper last year) over hurdles by a length and a half to claim the Royal Bond.
Another factor in the market confidence behind Jezki is the lack of creditable competition. It’s fair to say this isn’t a vintage year for two mile novice hurdlers, with most of the early season candidates now looking as if they’ll step up in trip and contest the Neptune Investment Management Novice’s Hurdle. Puffin Billy, an impressive winner of the Grade 2 Kennel Gate Novices Hurdle at Ascot and 2nd favourite for the Supreme Novices with some bookmakers, falls into this category. Trainer Oliver Sherwood is on record as saying the Neptune would be the preferred race for the hugely progressive 5-year-old, and therefore he’s one to avoid when seeking an ante-post play, and only worth considering should he arrive to post. Of those who look sure to contest the Supreme, the Nicky Henderson trained pair of River Maigue and the fantastically named, My Tent Or Yours, would appear to be the biggest threat to Jezki’s claim. The former was hugely impressive when winning a Novice Hurdle on Kempton’s King George card on Boxing Day, however the conditions of that race will be the polar opposite to what he’ll face on March 12th. New Years Day aside, he was a class apart from the rest of the field that day, the ground was bottomless, and Kempton is of course a right handed flat track on which to me he appeared to excel; far more so than on debut at Cheltenham on the first day of their Open Meeting, finishing 2nd to Dodging Bullets, when he travelled well throughout before finding very little on the run up the hill. My Tent Or Yours impressed on debut, beating subsequent Grade 1 winner Taquin De Seuil, albeit in receipt of penalty, by just shy of two lengths. What impressed me most about that win was the fact he pulled double throughout and still had enough left in the tank to repel what was clearly a high class opponent. If he’d of settled under AP McCoy the margin of victory would have been far greater, and would of indicated excellent form. He was beaten when a short price on his second start at Newbury, but excuses can be made for that given this horse possesses an abundance of speed, and conditions on the day turned the race into more of a slog. An effortless victory at Huntingdon a few days ago highlighted his class, and should he be able to balance his huge frame around the undulations of Cheltenham, in a race run at the pace of a Supreme Novies, he rates to me the chief threat. His price is shortening all the time, but with his owner JP McManus having just purchased the horse he has to beat in Jezki, I wouldn’t look to weigh in just yet, as that could cause the recent wave of support to dry up. After all, why would Ireland’s champion owner add the exciting 5-year-old to his portfolio, if he was convinced he already had the horse who’d win the race.
The best horses go to the best yards, and they don’t come any better than Paul Nicholls’ Ditcheat operation and so Dodging Bullets, who looks set to represent the Champion trainer, is another who commands respect. He’s already got Cheltenham Festival experience having finished a creditable 4th to Countrywide Flame in last year’s Triumph Hurdle, and is unbeaten this season in Novice company with his only defeat coming courtesy of a hugely respectable 3rdplace finish behind Darlan and Raya Star in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Two victories prior to that came at Cheltenham, a track that appears to play to his battling qualities, and if his official rating of 156 is to be taken literally, then he has to have a massive chance. My one concern is that for all he’s gutsy, uncomplicated and will gallop from the start to finish line, he perhaps lacks that little bit of class which I’m convinced both Jezki and My Tent Or Yours do possess. That said, he’s a solid each way play, but not one to consider ante-post at a best price of 14/1. I’m sure he’ll be a touch shorter come the day, but that does nothing to improve his chance, and for me he has place claims at best.
Of those at bigger prices, Un Atout trained by Willie Mullins is completely unexposed and could be anything. He’s looked massively impressive winning low grade events over in Ireland but it’s impossible to gauge just how good he is. I wouldn’t put anyone off throwing a few quid his way at 20/1, especially as he may emerge to be the powerful yard’s first string in the race. In complete contrast, Waaheb is one I wouldn’t back with even Monopoly money. Trainer Dermot Weld has a terrible record at the Festival and his horses are often talked into prominent market positions with little on paper to offer justification. Much was thought early season of Pique Sous, another from the Willie Mullins yard, but he’s done little on the track to suggest he can be a threat to a number of those at the top of the market, whilst the likes of Don Cossack, New Years Eve, Melodic Rendezvous and Chatterbox would all have a chance, but fall into the Supreme or Neptune conundrum, and therefore are best to wait for the day with. Of those at huge prices, Court Minstrel is worth a bet at 40/1. His form ties in with Dodging Bullets from the race at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting where he was denied a clear run which would of seen him finish much closer to the winner that day. He disappointed in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown last time out but a return to Cheltenham, and ground any better than soft, could see him give a bold show.
In summary, for me Jezki is the most likely winner and I do believe there’s still some value to his price. My Tent Or Yours is the chief threat, but you’re safe to wait for the day with him, while the other two to play at present are Un Atout who could be anything, and Court Minstrel who could easily bounce back to form given the right conditions.
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We’re just over two months away from the 2013 Cheltenham Festival and so we’ve seen plenty of clues for the big festival meeting from stables big and small. Next weekend is the rescheduled Victor Chandler Chase at Cheltenham after the Grade 1 contest was rescued from snowbound Ascot and added to a very interesting Festival Trials Day. We will see warm Queen Mother Chase ante-post favourite Sprinter Sacre in the line-up who is currently trading at 1/2 for Cheltenham Festival glory.
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When Synchronised and AP McCoy won the Lexus chase in 2011 I suspect few people truly believed that the same combination would follow up in the Gold Cup itself come March, writes Darren Fleming. The history books however confirm that Synchronised and AP proved their doubters wrong with a courageous triumph which of course turned to tragedy just a few weeks later in the Grand National.
So what pointers will the Lexus provide this year? A thrilling finish to the race saw Tidal Bay weave a path to victory just in front of the brave First Lieutenant and the classy Flemenstar a close third. Last year’s Jewson winner Sir Des Champs was doing his best work late on to finish within a couple of lengths of the winner too. If he turns up in the Gold Cup then Tidal Bay is a worthy each way contender at 12-1 (a similar price after Lexus victory to Synchronised after his win in 2011) but at the moment it is a fairly sizable if, as connections are considering a World Hurdle bid for which he quoted at around 8-1.
First Lieutenant’s form figures reflect the fact that he is a generally consistent yardstick but my thought is that he may well run well enough at Cheltenham I if he goes for the Gold Cup) without being quite good enough to win the big one. Flemenstar was travelling much the best of the four with a couple of fences left and looked the most likely winner between the last two. He was only overhauled near the finish and there has to be a doubt that he will be suited by the Gold Cup distance as much as some of his rivals and the Champion Chase may well be a target according to connections. Sir Des Champs on the other hand looks as though he wants the extra test which Cheltenham will offer although his jumping wasn’t totally convincing and this would may be a slight concern come the festival but having backed him prior to the Lexus I can see no real reason to desert him now.
Elsewhere over the festive period Long Run won his second King George at Kempton. The Gold Cup winner of 2011 continued to make jumping mistakes but his stamina saw him just get the better of Captain Chris on the Kempton run-in.
Despite the fact that certain correspondents suggested that SWC had given Long Run a great ride to take the race I am still struggling to see the greatness of the performance in the saddle. Even to my untrained eye SWC does not look like a professional jockey in the big races and is just one reason (maybe the main reason) I have to oppose him.
[** On 20 December 1997 I had my first and only riding lesson. I struggled to sit at the Leeds v Bolton game the same afternoon so never returned to the saddle as a result the thoughts are not from a riding expert but we are all entitled to an opinion and this is mine!]
Strangely the horse which probably did his reputation most good over the holidays was the ante-post favourite Bob’s Worth who shortened in the market despite staying at home. Silviniaco Conti looks to continue Paul Nicholls recent good record in the race and whilst I am not convinced he is a Denman or a Kauto Star, he certainly deserves respect. I will take some convincing that horses such as Captain Chris, Grand Crus and Riverside Theatre will be taking the major Prize. I would like to see Cue Card run well but could not back him so the only other outsider of interest would be The Giant Bolster who ran so well in the race last year and who may be of interest if he is larger than the current price of 25-1 nearer the race.
In summary the festive races left us with more questions than answers really. At the start of the season it seemed the race was primed for a young pretender to come and take the crown and in Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs the race could be between two of last year’s leading novices. Both have excellent trainers to guide them to the festival and if both stay fit and healthy I can see Bobs Worth looking the likely winner with two to jump only for Sir Des Champs to wear him down up the hill to take the crown for Willie Mullins or at least that is what my wallet would like to happen!
Cheltenham Gold Cup Sir Des Champs 7/1 EW (Bet with Ladbrokes)
Follow Darren on Twitter @papafleming!