On my last ante post preview I failed to mention the Champion bumper, the last race of day 2. Whilst it is a race which is generally strong for the trends it is not worth bothering with in my view till we get a clearer picture as to what will be running and what won’t. Unlike many of the champion races at the Festival where a season revolves around peaking at Cheltenham, when it comes to the bumper then it is less of a goal. Some trainers don’t like to ‘bottom out’ their best and promising horses with a hard race so early in their career and is a race that has never been high on the Gigginstown calendar. Because of this and the fact that a horses most recent run is a key guide then it is too early for me to consider the race strongly.
Moving on to Day 3
JLT Novices Chase
Still a very open market with most firms betting 6/1 the field and double figure prices the rest. This is in part because it is a middle distance race with horses still having the option of going shorter for the Arkle or further for the RSA as well. Along these lines, this race is also a bit of an after thought. The race not having a good history with winners, barring Vautour in 2015, the majority failed to go on after winning this, struggling outside of novice company. Sir Des Champs did have one good season but was soon off the boil also. Last years winner Shattered Love is possibly proving it once again having failed to win in five starts since victory last year. Because we have only had 8 runnings then trends are not as strong either, though I did recommend last years winner as an ante post punt. Some things are beginning to stand out. All 8 winners had raced at the Festival before, so has clearly shown plenty of ability and been well regarded by their yards. 7 of the 8 winners have been trained in Ireland with only Cheltenham specialist Taquin Du Seuil breaking that trend for Jonjo O’Neill. Don’t think that is a coincidence as I feel competitive graded form is very important to help a horse develop. Racing against better horses prepares a horse for the rigours of the Cheltenham Festival and they do that so much better in Ireland. No winner has been off for more than 54 days so a prep run is important whilst only last years winner was rated less than 146 (Though with her mares allowance was very competitive on RPR). The fact that only one winner has been trained in the UK is a concern for current favourite Lostintranslation for Colin Tizzard. Ran in the Supreme last year, finishing 7th, it hasn’t been seen since New Years Day when winning the Grade 2 Dipper. That form is questionable as 2nd, Defi Du Seuil hasn’t been very consistent for the last couple of seasons, whilst the third has now switched to hurdles and the 4th was well backed but never even got in the race. Did jump and travel well to win but i’m not convinced whilst its adjusted RPR puts it 10lb before La Bague Au Roi. Needs another performance otherwise it will be off for 72 days putting itself outside of that trend. I think it is partly that price as connections have stated this race will be the target but I am happy to take it on at this stage. La Bague Au Roi is as mentioned is top on RPR and has been in terrific form this year. However, just two 7th place finishes at Cheltenham and the strong suspicion is she is much better on flatter tracks. Topofthegame is next in the betting but is still a maiden and the talk in the yard is that this is aimed at the RSA. Defi Du Seuil has already been mentioned but is prominent in the betting here. As I said, its form looks a little inconsistent at the moment to me and like many will need a prep run. The worry would be if it began to show its inconsistencies again, its not for me at this stage.
Of the Irish runners Winter Escape looks the best at this stage who generally fit the trends, however there are still a couple of key trials to come and a poor run there would knock all confidence and value. The most interesting however could be Mengli Khan though it has not tackled this distance yet. Grade 1 winning hurdlers have won four of the 8 races from just 12 qualifiers suggesting that like the Arkle the ability to run and jump at a grade 1 level carries on over the larger obstacles. A more obscure stat is that 3 of the winners actually began on the flat, a natural flat speed can clearly be of essence here and Mengli Khan is a 96 rated flat horse. With its best form coming over 1m 3f on the flat then you could argue that 2m has been on the short side, especially when jumping fences. Needs to put a poor run behind it but could be more than capable. This is where we get the dilemma. 6 of the 8 winners of this race had already won a graded chase. Mengli Khan is entered in the Irish Arkle for which it is around 7/1. We could do the double, back it for the Irish Arkle and if it wins the JLT, however, I feel if it wins the Irish Arkle they will go for the Arkle instead at Cheltenham where I wouldn’t be confident on its chances, though does have some speed as a grade 1 winner. Given a choice I would certainly be leaning Gordon Elliott to the JLT but don’t think he would listen to me!
All in all I will avoid betting on the race until the rest of the key trials have been won. Six of the eight winners had won last time out so it is clear how important they can be.
Balko Des Flos was a bit of a spoiler last year for trends as the front two in the market had won 8 of the previous 11 races, with 7 winners having contested the King George and 9 of the 10 winners having already won a grade 1 chase. Course winners were 9/56 whilst 5 of the last 8 had won at the Festival before. That meant we had a very strong favourite in Un De Sceaux who fit the trends well but sadly got turned over. These things happen though to be fair Balko Des Flos had shown much improved form to finish second behind Road To Respect over Christmas in a very competitive grade 1. It would be no surprise if the race reverted back to type once more however.
Min is the current favourite but lacks a course win. However, has only found Altior too good in first the Supreme and then the Champion Chase last year. Ticks the box as a grade 1 chase winner last time, beating last years JLT winner Shattered Love and winner of this race Balko Des Flos. Its only other runs at the trip were winning a 3 runner chase by 36 lengths and a narrow defeat by classy Politilogue. The only concern is as a Mullins horse it is never easy to determine who is going where. 6/1 is best available though with 9/2 NRNB then it would surprise me if it was that price come the race.
Waiting Patiently looked very talented last year but has not had its ground this season and the only time it has got out was when unseating in the King George having been badly hampered. But with all winners having previous Festival experience and the majority of opposition having that big race form it has to be a concern. Footpad is still on course for the Champion Chase and a battle with Altior while after Frodons win yesterday, he will go for the Gold Cup. One who seems to have been written off a little is Un De Sceaux, as an 11yo now. Beat when a short price last year but still ran with credit having got worked up beforehand and keen through the race on the soft ground. Actually ran its equal best performance according to RPR when 2nd behind Altior, putting in a very brave display, not going down without a fight. Trainer hinted that the plan would be the same again with this horse and closely matched with Min on RPR. Its just a case of whether Mullins would think about avoiding their own horse. 10/1 to go for the race or 7/1 with non runner no bet. Maybe the safer option is advisable considering the horse is an 11yo. Which again, brings us the problem of an 11yo+ winning a graded race at Cheltenham which is a very rare occurrence. Grade 1 races tend to go to improving types who need things to drop right, or are a different class to the opposition. By the age of 11 horses are on the wain and open to being beaten by something less exposed and improving. Native River managed it in the Gold Cup though so maybe there is a revival! If you could guarantee that Un De Sceaux would run then the 10/1 e/w would look a very solid bet.
Balko Des Flos hasn’t got near to its form of last year in three starts this season. Politilogue doesn’t seem at his best at Cheltenham which his trainer now admits. Form figures of U044 wouldn’t inspire confidence so the Melling Chase at Aintree may be a bigger target now having won it last year. Road To Respect and Kemboy look likely to go down the Gold Cup route. Going a bit left-field I would chuck in Killultagh Vic into the mix. Always been well regarded, it was running a massive race when just taking the lead in the Irish Gold Cup last year before falling at the last. Bit of a funny fall as never hit the fence, just kicked its legs to the side and failed to land its feet properly, leaving it no chance. Despite travelling ok, it did look a tired fall. That seemed to effect the horse in the Cheltenham Gold Cup as it was never in the race despite going off at 8/1. Then ran in the Punchestown Gold Cup finishing 5th and again it looked a non stayer to me. Held up out the back and travelling well again, it was only 3 or 4 lengths behind the leaders jumping the last yet was beat over 11 lengths when they crossed the line, finishing with a couple of non stayers. Pulled up in France when going for a valuable race at beyond 3m over hurdles, it then had its injury problems before eventually returning to the track on New Years Eve over hurdles where it clearly needed the run. Put that race behind it the other day when finishing a close third to Presenting Percy once more over hurdles, racing far more prominently than it usually does. It was easily the slowest of the 4 close finishers though by the time the line came. I just don’t think this horse realistically stays 3m. Entered up in the Irish Gold Cup, if it suggests it fails to stay the trip once more then the Ryanair must come into consideration. Has plenty of form at the Festival aside from pulling up in the Gold Cup. In previous years it has been 6th in the Champion bumper and won the Martin Pipe in 2015. The punters on betting exchange Matchbook would suggest I am wrong as someone is prepared to lay it at 100/1 to £12 with best price available with the bookmakers 33/1 or 16/1 non runner no bet. While I fancy it for the race if it was to run, I don’t see a great deal to be gained from backing it this early if not prepared to bet without NRNB. A win in the Irish Gold Cup would probably see it go for the Cheltenham Gold Cup whilst with all the big names still entered even if it did run well a long way before fading I would still expect to get 16/1 for it.
One other to mention is Monalee. Like Min, he has finished runner up on both starts at the Festival, firstly behind Penhill in the Albert Bartlett then finding Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy too good in the RSA. Impressive winner of a very strong Flogas last year over 2m 5f it was somewhat of a surprise they chose to go down the 3m route. Its last four runs have seen it achieve RPR of 163, 165, 161 and 163 giving it an adjusted rating of 169, putting it behind most of the principles in the betting. Considering most winners of this have an RPR of 170+ and Balko Des Flos won it with a best of 168 going in before achieving 174 in the race itself, I just don’t see Monalee being good enough to win this without dramatic improvement. To put Monalee RPR in context, Un De Sceaux has got 167 or higher in his last 10 runs with the last 6 all being 170 or above. Admittedly most of Monalees runs have been in novice company while all of Un De Sceau has in top graded company, but they are both available at 10/1 for this race. I know where my money would be.
Would have been tempted by a good e/w bet on Un De Sceaux at its best price available of 10/1 but with the potential of it running elsewhere I don’t like losing twice my money, especially if there isn’t a great deal to be gained. A little win bet as it is sure to be shorter if running with several principles also likely to come out.
1pt win Un De Sceaux @ 10/1 William Hill, BetVictor, BetFred and Boylesport
This got quite the market shake up at the weekend after the impressive victory of Paisley Park against pretty much the best the UK has to offer. Now he is as low as 7/4 in a place though BetBright are giving 11/4. Fits the trends as well as horses who have won at least 2 of the British 3m graded trials have won six contests this century from just a couple of handful of runners, while 7 of the last 11 winners had been unbeaten over hurdles that season. To put the British runners into perspective, Paisley Park is 10pts clear of the next British horse on adjusted RPR. This is perhaps more of a reflection of the weak standard of stayers in the UK that makes Paisley Park better than he looks. While it all looks good on paper, until he takes on the best, and classier types in Ireland then the price is perhaps a little on the short side.
So what of the Irish runners? Faugheen has been a bit of an enigma of late, but is clearly still capable on his day. However, 10yo+ are now 0/52 in the race since 1986 with several classy types to attempt it. Like before, these grade 1s are generally not good for older horses. Penhill is last years winner who seems to thrive at the Festival. Also won the Albert Bartlett the year before, no mean feat considering previous years Albert Bartlett runners were 0/16 in the stayers prior to last year including 6 winners. Bit of a disappointing race last year though with the favourite (A much improved hurdler in its second season, ring any bells?) running below par along with several other fancied runners. Not been seen since the Punchestown festival last April but trainer is certainly no stranger to readying one for Cheltenham after a long absence. My only worry is that its adjusted RPR still only puts in on a par with the likes of Agrapart.
Supasundae always runs its race but couldn’t get the better of Penhill in this last year which is a concern. All 37 horses to have been beaten in the race in the last 14 years to turn up again have been beat. Not raced over 3m since this race last year, it is hard to imagine it going one better this time, though is sure to run a good race as it invariably does. If you don’t mind tying your money up for a few weeks then the 5/1 on Apples Jade NRNB looks incredible. Unbeaten so far this season, has twice won the grade 1 Christmas hurdle at Leopardstown, doing so this year by no less than 26 lengths! Obviously the plan has always been the Mares hurdle though that could turn out to be a tougher race than this, especially if the likes of Laurina, Limini and Benie Des Dieux turn up as she gets the Mares allowance in the stayers meaning 7lb less. Elliott doesn’t normally change his mind once it is set and Gigginstown are happy to win the prizes they can but if she was confirmed to run in this then she would be half the price of 5/1 at least and vying for favouritism.
Of the others, I put up Wholestone at the weekend, highlighting what a fantastic record the horse has at the course of 121131232 prior to its last run and having finished 3rd in the Stayers last year it certainly has some ability. Unfortunately it could only finish 9th but made a howling error at the downhill second last, losing its back legs when still travelling ok, taking it back from 5th place to 9th and several lengths behind. Jockey saw sense and only coasted it home once its chance had gone. Would never of beaten the winner as it just doesn’t have that turn of foot but would of had a chance of grinding out a place. 40/1 is a very fair price or you can have 33/1 with BetVictor with 4 places. Personally, I don’t see any reason to be backing it right now and after the mistake it made I would want confirmation that the horse was ok first with no potential injury.
Not sure I want to be backing anything in the race at the moment. Maybe the best value lies with Penhill, who may have a prep, but then could go straight to the Festival in an attempt to win there for three straight years. Mullins admits he is a horse you have to mind and he knows best so the absence is not of a concern. Current price of 7/1 is fair but I still think is prone to being beat by a classier individual.
No bets advised.
Probably my least favourite race at the Festival, mainly because it is the newest and so few trends to go on, but also because it has been won by a short priced favourite each time, all trained by Willie Mullins. His best chance this year according to the betting is Relegate, who won the Champion bumper last year and is 1/2 over hurdles. Interestingly her record in fields of 12 or more are 1111 and does run as though she needs a strong pace as per her win in the bumper. All three runnings of this race have seen 16, 16 and 14 take part so she will at least get the field size you would think. The other from the Mullins yard to seriously consider is My Sister Sarah. In his stable tour back in November she was the one he suggested for the Mares novice, stating she also had the ability to run on the flat as well. Thought to be a smart filly with a great engine, it is a little surprising to see her the price she is considering connections. Only run once since that stable tour, winning on New Years Day. Didn’t beat a great deal but did it well enough and according to RPR is improving with every run.
Current favourite is Honeysuckle for Henry De Bromhead. Three from three over hurdles, favourite for each of them including winning a grade 3 last time out beating Western Victory. Significant as Honeysuckle beat that rival by 6 lengths carrying 2lb more, whereas My Sister Sarah beat her by only a length carrying 2lb less! Looks to be plenty more to come despite a decent RPR already, she has been noted with the RP comments “easily” for all three of her victories. Holds a few entries so more than likely to have one more run before the Festival. Next in betting is Epatante for Henderson and McManus. Winner of her only start though the form isn’t amounting to much with the runner up beaten twice in handicaps and only has a rating of 117. Had schooled well though as was regarded as an exciting prospect for Novice hurdles this year. Not done enough to warrant its price for me though. Next is Elusive Belle, a recent addition to the Henderson yard having previously been trained by Peter Fahey in Ireland and bought after finishing 2nd in a Gowran Park listed bumper. Won her novice hurdle by 19 lengths, though was getting 23lb from the runner up. Little to go on though lack of experience is always going to be a concern if they don’t get another run into her. Chante Neige is next in the betting for Willie Mullins even though she has yet to race for the yard despite joining them in November 2017. Didn’t even get a mention in the yards stable tour yet is only 7/1 with Skybet. Must of improved a great deal over the winter but without seeing it on the track there isn’t much I can say! Salsaretta is yet another for Mullins. Second season novice having ran in this race last year. Was failing to make much impression when falling at the last. Was thought to need further and proved that by winning a hurdle on heavy ground over 2m 4f. The 2m 1f tip here is surely going to be on the short side.
Posh Trish for Paul Nicholls has one of the best RPR in the race after the 140 she attained last time out. Was thought of as a possible Challow contender towards the beginning of the season. The form of her listed win got a boost when the runner up got very close to beating Lady Buttons at Doncaster at the weekend. Owners have said she will be given a break before returning to Cheltenham for this race. She already has form here having won a listed bumper in 2017. Has bags of experience with five runs in bumpers and hurdles each, I think there is every reason to believe she can continue to improve enough to win this.
There are still some that are likely to put forward a very strong case and though further improvement may come from Honeysuckle, Posh Trish is almost three times the price as that rival and has achieved more. With no negatives towards Posh Trish then she seems a very fair price for a runner that barring injury will likely turn up with strong form credentials.
1pt win Posh Trish @ 14/1 Bet365
1pt win Aramon @ 16/1
0.5pt win Getaway Trump @ 7/1 Betfair Hurdle (All returns to go on best price for Supreme if wins)
0.5pt win Melon @ 4/1 Irish Champion Hurdle (All returns on Melon for Champion hurdle if wins)
1pt e/w Mall Dini @ 33/1 widely available
1pt e/w Easy Game @ 25/1 Skybet 1/5th odds 3 places NRNB
1pt e/w Ballycasey @ 16/1 Skybet 1/5th odds 3 places NRNB