Early Bird – Cheltenham Antepost – Day 2

Here is part 2/day 2 of my early assessment of the graded races at the Cheltenham Festival. Five exciting races to get through so let us begin.

Ballymore Novice Hurdle

Please bear in mind that this was written before the Lawlor’s race so I have added and addendum at the end of this section to reflect on the race.
Bravemansgame sets a very good standard for the race at this stage having impressively won the grade 1 Challow last time out. With Appreciate It likely to go Supreme now then he could take some beating. He reminds me of Willoughby Court as in the type to race prominently and attempt to grind out the win in the race. Whenever people think about the Ballymore over the 2m 5f trip then they invariably think of horses that will stay the trip. Maybe that is changing now as it is not so long ago this was won by The New One & Faugheen. More lately it has been won by Samcro and Envoi Allen, considered more 3m types, though Envoi Allen is probably good enough to win at whatever trip he races at! Because of the nature of the trip, with a couple of hurdles early then the pace in the race is generally quite steady, suggesting that you do need an element of speed as well as the ability to stay the distance. Quite often the race is full of 3m chasing types getting Cheltenham experience so that element of speed and quicken can be crucial in this race. Looking back though, the quicker, hurdling types do tend to go Supreme these days but if there is something with the potential to make into a Champion Hurdle contender in the future then side with them. However, on initial impressions I don’t think there is likely anything in the race that would fit this profile.

Gaillard Du Mesnil is the closest in the betting to Bravemansgame and has been well supported after an impressive visual win at Leopardstown. However, questionable how good the form is with its main market rivals underperforming. Because of connections then it is a shorter price then I would like. I am a fan of Bob Olinger who ran a cracker of a race when narrowly going down to Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow. Would have learned a lot from that run before duly winning a relatively simple novice race. Due to run in the Lawler’s Of Naas which has been rescheduled for Wednesday. A win there and I would imagine it would halve in price for the race as it is the one that has the potential to have the 2m speed. The problem I have is that if Wednesday turns into a slog then it wouldn’t suit Bob Olinger and could well be turned over by a stronger stayer especially if the ground nullifies his speed. In which case the 10/1 best available now I just don’t see representing value, not in what looks a very competitive race. Be interesting to see how the race turns out.

Another entered in the Lawlor’s is Ashdale Bob. I will admit that I have already backed it for the Albert Bartlett over 3m rather than the Ballymore, though I am having second thoughts. I know a couple of the principles ran below par last time but I was impressed with the way he picked up and pulled clear of the remainder of the pack, hurdling the last well before staying on. Is definitely the type to go well in the Lawlor’s though looking more long term it remains to be seen how he goes on better ground. The 25/1 is a fair price though I do wonder whether he is quick enough for the Ballymore. As a second season novice he does strike me as having a nice profile for the Albert Bartlett hence my initial thoughts towards that race.

The race also brings in Blue Lord who is well regarded in the Mullins yard. Was thought in some places to be a Supreme horse but with Appreciate It likely to go that way then Blue Lord could well be targeted at this. Another that depends what happens on Wednesday which is why I couldn’t be touching it at the moment as you have no other form to fall back on. Could also hack up but at least with horses like Bob Olinger and Ashdale Bob they have good back form to turn to if below par here.

As an amendment after the Lawlor’s race. Couldn’t help but be very impressed with Bob Olinger who quickened nicely off a slow pace and hurdled really well, improving as the pace increased. Shame Ashdale Bob fell early as that would have been a great guide as to how good this form is. With Bob Olinger and Bravemansgame about a similar price now, vying for favouritism, my preference is with Bob Olinger. Just feel it is a faster horse with the quickening speed that Bravemansgame wouldn’t be able to match. Saying that, if the ground was to come up particularly soft then it could be more of a slog which would then favour the Nicholls horse. After the fall of Ashdale Bob, hopefully they will look more towards the Albert Bartlett rather than this race. Was a strange fall as it looked as though the horse never even saw the hurdle, diving at it when it ‘suddenly’ appeared in front.

I don’t want to be tipping horses on here at 5/1 at this stage so would rather recommend no bet in the race.

3m Festival Novice Chase (Previously the RSA)

Strong favourite again in Monkfish who has done very little wrong including staying on well to win the Albert Bartlett last year. With the British not producing much for the race so far it is possible he beat his biggest rival last time in Latest Exhibition. Was a great race though Monkfish got on top at the finish to win by 3 lengths. That form could be reversed under a stiffer challenge though can’t help but feel Monkfish could be suited by conditions also. Considering the two times they have met then there hasn’t been much between them then should there be so much of a difference in price (2/1 & 10/1) when only a few lengths separate them on all known form. Also tied into their form is Pencilfulloflead, who comfortably beat Latest Exhibition by 7 lengths in the Florida Pearl which has worked out very well. The 3rd and 4th finished 2nd and 1st in the Porterstown off marks of 140 and 135 respectively. Not suited by the drop in trip when beaten by Colreevy giving the mare weight. However, he jumped pretty well again considering the shorter trip. Yet to go three miles though has shaped enough like it will be well within its capabilities. Has also yet to race at Cheltenham so also lacks Festival experience which to me is a bigger worry.
Protektorat has very solid form in three runs over fences with RPR’s of 155, 160 & 160. Looked in need of a step up when behind Messire Des Obeaux last time but would much rather see a horse proven at the trip first. Shan Blue won the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day, making all, jumping well in front. However, the opposite is true there in that he is set to drop back in trip and take in the Marsh Chase. Behind it that day is The Big Breakaway who was finishing strongly, but his jumping causes massive concerns along with the poor record of the Tizzard yard at the Festival of late.
The Big Getaway is a tempter. Like I said about the Ballymore being good experience for staying chasers, this was 3rd in last year’s race behind Envoi Allen. Flopped badly on debut this season but then jumped impressively on next start. Would have to step up on that to be a serious contender here and has to prove that it wants three miles. I would also be interested to see it in the NH chase, getting into a good jumping rhythm towards the front of the field. This guesswork about where he may run though is enough to put me off at this stage.
As a conclusion the line of form with Monkfish, Latest Exhibition and Pencilfulloflead looks the strongest. Considering they are 2/1, 10/1 & 20/1 then the latter looks great value considering he beat Latest Exhibition by further than what Monkfish did. We are chancing how it gets on at Cheltenham though the Festival experience may be less relevant with crowds unlikely at this stage. It is too big a price to ignore in comparison.

1pt win – Pencilfulloflead @ 20/1 Bet365

Champion Chase

Chacun Pour Soi is a best price 6/4 for the race though hovering just above 2/1 on the exchanges. That may be because people are laying off their good positions and also others prepared to lay considering his chequered record of fitness. He looks to be the class act in the race though it seems to be forgotten that he has yet to race at Cheltenham let alone the Festival. No experience of the fences and not the greatest fitness record suggests he is vulnerable at this stage considering the shortness of his price.

What to take it on with though? Politilogue is the solid one and as last year’s Champion then is the one to beat. Now a 10yo but looks as good as ever based on last two RPR’s and connections seem to be more patient with him now considering his age. Looks a very solid each way shout, but again, 6/1 best price with two months still to go for an each-way bet doesn’t appeal. Altior is possible value at 12/1 on his best form, but for that you are looking at form from over two years ago. Won a weak renewal of this race in 2019 when Politilogue had been running all season over further (even took in the 3m King George that year). Would be great to see him win but for me the price is about right considering he has been winning in a weak division and you imagine would need the form from when younger to win it this year. Nube Negra was the victor over Altior last time out. Being kept pretty fresh this year, you can see why he is a very similar price to Altior in most places. The problem for me is that the horse improved for that run by over a stone on anything it had shown before. To me it is a big candidate to bounce for the rest of the season as it has probably overly exerted his energy in that first run of the season. When horses show such improvement at the highest level it can struggle to recover for the good part of six months. We have seen it before with the likes of Cyrname and Bristol De Mai off the top of my head. Is Nube Negra really that much of an improver? Or has he run his ‘race of a lifetime’? I would side with the latter from experience. Horses just don’t tend to improve like that at the highest level.

For me I think there is plenty of value at a bigger price. I am a big fan of Put The Kettle On who seems to relish it here. Three from three at the course, she was readily dismissed in last year’s Arkle but still battled well to win. Did so again to win first time up this season when staying on strongly to reel in Duc Des Geneivres. Only third at Leopardstown behind Chacun Pour Soi but it should be remembered that this was her first visit to Leopardstown whereas Chacun Pour Soi was making his third start over the chase course, now producing his two career highest RPRs over the course and distance. Things are reversed at Cheltenham where Chacun Pour Soi has yet to race at the track. Though there were 8 lengths between them at Leopardstown, I expect PTKO to finish much closer to CPS at Cheltenham.

From the same yard as Put The Kettle On, you also have Notebook. Only defeated twice in chases, once last time out when 6 ½ lengths behind Chacun Pour Soi and also when running a stinker in the Arkle despite going off favourite. That is twice now he has disappointed at the Festival having finished only 12th of 16 in the Ballymore in 2019 which is obviously a concern. His demolition of Fakir D’Oudaries suggests he is more than capable of improving in his second season chasing to take a hand here.

Finally, I have to give a word to Defi Du Seuil who looks a prime candidate for the Non-Runner No Bet market. Last two runs as a beaten favourite have been very uninspiring. Only 4th of 5 in the race last year when never travelling, before eased off and pulled up on seasonal return when the jockey reported the horse had stopped quickly. Not been seen since, though is due to run in the Clarence House at Ascot in a weeks’ time, a race he won impressively last year when beating Un De Sceaux. Can he get close to the form he had shown last season prior to the Champion Chase? Possibly, it is not as though age has caught up with this 8-year-old. The thing is, if he doesn’t win the Clarence House then I can’t see it winning the Champion Chase. If it doesn’t win then will they even run it in the race anyway? This is why it could pay to back the horse on the NRNB market. Wins well and it shortens up significantly, probably into 2nd fav considering it could be taking on Politilogue at Ascot. Get beat and it would surprise me if it even went for the race, in which case you are getting your money back.

I am happy to back Put The Kettle On each way for the race. With her fine record at the course, 7lb mares’ allowance and trainer confirming this is her target then there is every reason to believe she can run a big race, especially if something was to happen to Chacun Pour Soi again. Like I suggested I will also have a small punt on Defi Du Seuil ensuring I get NRNB. If he was to win the Clarence House then the 14/1 would look a very big price. However, if he was to be beat, especially comfortably then it is hard to envision the horse turning up for the race. In which case we will get our money back anyway. Hopefully a risk-free bet to get some value going into the race.

0.75pt e/w – Put The Kettle On @ 14/1 BetFred NRNB
0.75pt win – Defi Du Seuil @ 14/1 Paddy Power NRNB

Cross Country Chase

A race in which really should go to Easysland who put in a ridiculous display to win the race last year, hammering Tiger Roll by 27 lengths despite having several pounds to find at the weights and only a 6yo at the time. Bit concerning that we have only seen him once since then, back here in November, getting humped by horses more than a stone out of the weights! Suggested that the ground was on the fast side for it and needed the run, but still, it’s a little disconcerting going into the race that he hasn’t been seen since to confirm wellbeing. Last year he had four runs before the Festival so it does make you wonder. If the Easysland from last year’s race turn up then I’m not sure anything would be able to beat it off level weights.

The one who obviously has the form in the back catalogue is Tiger Roll. Ran to a mark of 155 RPR in the race last year, which was good enough to win in 2018, but 17 lengths behind last season. In 2019 he ran to a 171 which is the same as Easysland last year, so can easily suggest that Tiger Roll ran below par. The problem is he hasn’t been seen at his best since winning the Grand National in 2019. Three starts since leave it with something to find. It is quite possible age has caught up with him now as an 11yo. Not only that but it shouldn’t be forgotten he was winning the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival back in 2014. That is a lot of seasons on the go to keep the horse in top form. All credit to both the horse and trainer for doing such a fantastic job. Could be one more big run in him, but from the signs we have seen I would rather bet that the horse just isn’t as good as once was.

Experience is crucial with it being very rare we get a winner of this race that hasn’t already got cross country experience, whilst being a level weights race then many can be ruled out as just not good enough on these terms. The one worry I have in betting ante post on this market is the potential French runners (Easysland excluded) as we just don’t know who will come over for the race. But with many having raced in Cross Country from an early age then their experience can prove vital whilst still underrated here.

Potters Corner ran a great race on Cross Country debut, finishing third behind Kingswell Theatre, warming to the task and staying on well having crept into the race from last place. Should have learnt a lot from that and with him likely to be well schooled since then, he has to have a big chance if the pair ahead in the betting don’t turn up or flop. The temptation is to get stuck into it as an each-way bet at 8/1 though you can’t help but feel you are only betting to 1 place if the real Easysland and Tiger Roll turn up. Trying to make up ground from the back in the Cross Country is tricky as there are so many fences or obstacles to slow down the momentum.

Instead, there is one at four times the price which is worth chancing. Some Neck was a 145 rated chaser at his best for Willie Mullins, a good stayer but prone to jumping mistakes. John McConnell bought the horse for new owners where he tried it over the bank course at Punchestown, running a race full of promise, finishing third behind a pair of far more experienced Cross-Country horses. Back in fourth was Josies Orders, another with loads of experience. Stepping up to 3m 6f at Cheltenham and the application of cheekpieces worked wonders as the horse stayed on strongly to snatch the race on the line, despite conceding 9lb and 10lb to the 2nd and 3rd allowing for the jockeys 7lb claim. Stays well, handles any ground and trainer has said this is the horse’s target. Has a decent record when running after a break so absence is no concern, he actually won a grade 2 as a novice chaser on seasonal debut. 16/1 with non-runner no bet, as short as 14/1 with Unibet but 33/1 William Hill, that is too good a price.

0.5pt e/w – Some Neck @ 33/1 WillHill

Champion Bumper

Big fan of Sir Gerhard who is current favourite at a best price of 3/1 with Bet365. Readily dismissed Letsbeclearaboutit in a listed race last time out who set a fair standard in comparison himself. That is easily the best form on offer here though several horses have shown the potential to be very good themselves. With plenty of promise in others along with the big occasion factor then 3/1 isn’t any value at the current stage in my book.

First, I will talk about is Eileendover, a mare who has won all three of her starts by a combination of 51 ½ lengths, including a 6 ½ length victory of a mares listed race at the weekend. Has an impressive turn of foot and has now won on good, soft and heavy ground, so conditions are no issue. The worry is whether she will go for the race. As a 4yo mare she will get all the allowances but trainer has said she is not keen on the race as it can be very hard on a horse. Might be hard to resist but there is a fair book of races for bumper mares and with talk of switching to the flat as well, a hard race in March isn’t the kind of preparation for the year you would want. Can be had at 12/1 best price, or 7/1 with NRNB. Considering she is from a small British yard then I’m not sure she will be much shorter than that come the night before the race when plans are finalized.

What goes for the race is a major stumbling block when it comes to betting ante post though to be fair the Paddy Power NRNB market isn’t too bad especially when considering the mares. Mares very rarely run in the race because there are several good races for their own sex to compete in without the need to go to Cheltenham, despite the allowances they get. Therefore, the likes of Eileendover (Already mentioned), Brooklynn Glory, Take Tea and Brandy Love (Latter three all trained by Willie Mullins) may well not turn up in the race. Possible that one may come but very unlikely that all of them will. Saying all this, none of the races have worked out for the latter three, with those finishing behind being beaten again since.

I was really impressed with Ramillies for Willie Mullins. Just the one bumper win but in a very good time and did so easily. The jockey barely had to squeeze him for him to show a turn of foot and pull away. Not sure yet how the form will work out and the runner up had been well beat before, showing significantly improvement in form. But I also like the fact he won a point to point as a 4yo, and is a second season bumper having had one run last season, going off a strong favourite of a Boxing Day bumper in 2019. Always been well regarded by the yard, the suggestion is that he will return to Leopardstown for the bumper at the Festival there. No bad thing as it is taking the same route as Appreciate It, who won both races at Leopardstown before beaten favourite in the Champion bumper. Plenty of experience and been in training for two seasons, he ticks many of the boxes.

Kilcruit is second favourite and once again trained by Mullins. Another second bumper horse who showed a great turn of foot when given a shake to win going away. Form is hit and miss as the runner up has been well beat since but the third has come out and won. Time was nothing special either but again is well regarded by the yard. Would be in with a shout as we just don’t know how much more there is to come from him.

Looking away from the Mullins yard then Elliott also holds a strong hand, even outside of Sir Gerhard. Chemical Energy is two from two in bumpers, winning by 10 lengths and 8 lengths, no easy feat in these races, usually run at an early crawl. Form of its last win has worked out with the runner up winning a maiden hurdle. Odds on favourite for both starts, it is clearly well regarded, whilst the times of both races has been fair. Will still only be second choice jockey booking at best though with the yard also having Sir Gerhard. Another for the yard is Hollow Games, who is also two from two. Also a point winner from late last season as a 4yo. The runner up who was beaten 7 lengths was actually beaten 14 lengths by Sir Gerhard on its start before so though it has won since it would still suggest Hollow Games is held by Sir Gerhard on form.

The UK challenge, excluding Eileendover doesn’t look particularly strong. The best may be I Am Maximus for Nicky Henderson though it remains to be seen whether it will be taking in this race or not. A good course winner back in October on debut, winning in a decent time. The form has been franked very well by those in behind, albeit over hurdles. My Drogo has won both starts including a grade 2 last time. 3rd has finished behind Supreme 2nd favourite Metier on last two starts, including 3rd in a grade 2 whilst 4th has also won a novice hurdle. Considering the lack of form for most bumper runners then at least this supports the fact it was a good run. However, does lack for race experience with that run being its only start.

If you can’t tell then I do really like Ramillies for the race, though it kind of relies on it running a very good prep race at Leopardstown, though as shown last year then defeat is still a learning curve. Ferny Hollow was beaten twice last season before getting this together when it mattered. With it likely that half the runners may well not turn up here then prices are sure to shorten if you get the right ones. If Ramillies can win its prep then I suspect it will be a strong 2nd favourite for this race and thus a much shorter price.

1pt e/w – Ramillies @ 16/1 Bet365