Earlybird – Cheltenhham Antepost – Day 3

Well, it seems these articles are proving somewhat successful when you consider both Abacadabras for Champion Hurdle and Pencilfulloflead for 3m chase have both been put up by well-respected racing figures in Tom Segal (Pricewise) and Lydia Hislop (RacingTV) after I had already highlighted the value in them. Funnily enough, in Lydias article on Thursday she also tipped up Darver Star for the Arkle, another that I tipped soon after last year’s Festival when I put it forward as an ‘any race’ option!

Anyway, it is onwards with Day 3 and just the four graded races to focus on.

Marsh Novices Chase

Like the majority of the novice chases, we have a short-priced favourite in Envoi Allen with only one company giving evens at time of writing and the rest all odds on. Unbeaten in eleven starts under rules, he has done everything asked of him whilst looking good doing so. For a horse of obvious talent, it is surprising to see his biggest winning margin is just 8 ½ lengths, when winning on his 2nd chase start and first in grade 1. Was taking on just three opponents and it was clear with how the race panned out that none of the other three wanted to get too close to the winner in fear of ruining a handicap mark! Interesting to hear that by not doing too much it may prolong his career, rather than those that go out and give their all every race. Seems a very valid argument. Hopefully we will have many seasons to enjoy Envoi Allen’s obvious skills. Clearly the one to beat here, even if his form isn’t the strongest on paper (Recent win was just 3 ½ lengths over a horse with a best RPR of just 144). Seems to jump very well but if looking for negatives then he has yet to be tested in the jumping stakes so it remains to be seen if as good over fences as is over hurdles. I suspect he could be better which will be something but that part has yet to be proven on the racetrack! Potentially several may avoid the clash so each-way value could be had early, especially if the race does cut up.

I like to go through a race by looking at the RPR’s of the runners. This is a reflective guide towards the class a horse has shown so far, so in theory the best horses should be at the top of the RPR’s… from what we have seen anyway. The problem in this race is that all those closest to Envoi Allen are unlikely to run. Chatham Street Lad is set to stay handicapping; Monkfish will go for the 3m event. Protektorat looks in need of stepping up from 2m 4f, Royale Pagaille holds a whole host of entries including the 3m 6f NH Chase so you would expect this will be on the short side (Note. After another impressive win he has been talked about going Gold Cup, though NH Chase would look a more sensible option). Colreevy is a possible, though as a mare she holds a host of entries. She may also stay in Ireland for the valuable mare’s chase run the weekend after Cheltenham at Limerick which looks ideal. I have a sneaky suspicion looking through her form that she is a few pounds better going right-handed. Energumene having been dropped to 2m with success last time is therefore likely to take in the Arkle so the first horse that appears for me is Franco De Port, victor over Darver Star and Felix Desjy last time. That was more about circumstances though as they went hard early and the race fell apart, setting it up for the staying on Franco De Port. Doesn’t bode well that he pulled up in last year’s Coral Cup and he is yet to race further than 2m 2f over fences. At least with Mullins holding a generally weak hand in respect of the Arkle and Marsh then it is likely Franco De Port will run here.

Fusil Raffles has plenty of class, as shown over hurdles and his three from four record over fences, defeat coming when pulling up on rain softened ground. That would be a major concern come the Festival as ground is usually on the easy side these days, though it did win on soft last time out. Form suggests he is a top of the ground horse however and so not one I could be interested in this far out. Latest Exhibition and If The Cap Fit are likely to take up engagements over further. Allart is interesting on his 5th in the Supreme hurdle last year. Clearly has the class but was very novicey on chase debut despite staying on well to win over more experienced horses. Fiddlerontheroof gives the form a solid look and it is sure to improve, however, I want to see some of that improvement first. That may well happen on Saturday (I am writing this before due to run again) and I will add an amendment to this if necessary. However, wouldn’t get away with its jumping in the early stages from that first run in a higher grade whilst having been held up, it just isn’t the type of horse for this race. As I suggested though, his second run will make all the difference for my opinion, which is why I can’t back it now. (That 2nd run came on Saturday when falling, proving my point that his novicey jumping was a concern. Certainly not one for me to consider until seen it out again, not the ideal prep either way though)

The horse I do really like is Shan Blue. A Point to Point winner who had just the one start in bumpers, a creditable 3rd to Chantry House. Had a long novice campaign over hurdles, running six times, culminating in the Ballymore where he wasn’t really put into the race. Finished 6th, beaten 27 lengths though was a 100/1 shot so not a great deal more could be expected. Looks very much a chaser where he is three from three. Has been superb in the last two starts, pinging the fences, putting the others under pressure at every jump. Both of those have been at three miles though trainer has suggested after his win at Kempton that he would be dropped back to 2m 4f of the Marsh. Looks the perfect move for the horse as he has plenty of pace and racing prominent is such a big advantage in the Marsh, like it is in the Ryanair. Last year Samcro was leading turning for home and held on to win this race whilst Min led from the 5th fence onwards and held off any challengers in the Ryanair. Quite simply, with the two quick fences in the finishing straight it is so hard for horses to make up ground or build up much momentum, not until it is too late. Shan Blues jumping ability will be crucial in the closing stages of this race. Whether he is good enough to beat Envoi Allen, or have the pace to compete will be another matter. At least we know jumping shouldn’t let this horse down anyway. Due to drop back in trip for the Scilly Isles next, a win there will see this a single figure price. Think he is only the price he is because he has been winning at 3m. Several places have it at 14/1 whereas the NRNB at Paddy Power is only 7/1. That is a more accurate price in my book so take the 14/1.

0.75pt e/w – Shan Blue @ 14/1 widely available

Ryanair Chase

Tricky race for me with regard this column as I am a big fan of Min and already have double the price, the same of which can be said about Saint Calvados who I tipped soon after last year’s Festival. Because of the prices they are now they are about right to me at this stage. Min is a classy individual who won the race last year, always racing prominently before gutsy in the finish. Is a 10yo but older horses don’t have too bad a record in the race, Albertas Run is a perfect example having won this as a 9yo and a 10yo before 2nd a final time at the age of 11. There is no reason why Min can’t win again with the perfect racing style for the race. Saint Calvados was a strange one last year. Held up before staying on pretty well at the finish, it was completely different to his usual racing style of being prominent. Didn’t stay when tried in the King George, I expect more use to be made of him in the Ryanair this season. However, had his problems this year which saw him miss his engagement prior to the King George. It’s not ideal when building up for a big race like this. Has a good chance but price is about right for me now.

Whilst I like Imperial Aura, he has done nothing to justify his position in the market. First run this year it beat Windsor Avenue who is a decent handicapper, but just that. Then beat Itchy Feet at Ascot, when the second favourite unseated. The runner up has since been beat in a class 2 chase by a horse rated just 143 off level weights. When last seen Imperial Aura was unseated early. No entries at the moment to run again, the form of this horse just doesn’t add up, not even with horses a few points bigger. For what it has achieved it is dreadful value.

Allaho has a big race coming up because from what we have seen this season it has been poor. May be excuses and certainly needs to jump better, it is hard to ignore his form last year and superb run in the RSA. Needs a big run on next start otherwise we may not even see him turn up. On that basis 10/1 doesn’t represent any value for me. I’m not sure Kemboy jumps well enough for this race where there is plenty of pressure to get into a rhythm. Figures of 54U7 at Cheltenham don’t inspire confidence either. A horse that does tend to step up to the plate at the course though is Melon, who does provide some interest from an each-way perspective, though a win record of just 3 from 20 (0/15 in grade 1 company) tempers any enthusiasm somewhat. Record of 23222 here, finishing runner up at the last four Festivals. Five of its top eight RPRs have come here and was only narrowly defeated in the Marsh over course and distance last year. Solid form this season though there is that obvious nagging doubt he will find one too good again.

Despite my position, I am still going to recommend a couple of each way bets, one with the cover of NRNB, the other taking the best price available. The NRNB horse is Samcro, who is a best price 20/1 so the 16/1 with the cover seems fair. Quality horse on his day, he seems to peak in the New Year where his record reads 111F1 and enjoys Cheltenham’s stiff finish where he is unbeaten. Has his problems, he was pulled up when last seen at Leopardstown at Christmas over three miles, though never put in the race. Trainer had admitted earlier in the season that it was all about getting this horse to Cheltenham to peak so I’m prepared to take his form this season with a certain pinch of salt. Elliott has shown he can get it right on the day and the horse enjoys the course so if he can get a good prep race in then 16/1 could look very big.
The other horse is his stablemate Battleoverdoyen. Bit of a forgotten horse, he went off favourite for the Ballymore as a novice only to run a stinker, never travelling and pulling up. Began chase career with promise as well, winning three times before falling behind Faugheen. Was only 50/50 to run at Cheltenham after that but they decided to go ahead, finishing only 4th in a strong RSA, not staying and also seemingly feeling the effects of that fall. Returned this year with a great display at Down Royal to beat Samcro and Easy Game, though was helped by a shuddering blunder from the former. From there the trainer admitted that the horse would concentrate on races at around this distance. Was only fourth to Min at Punchestown though the ground was pretty bad, Elliott withdrew Samcro from the race because of it and it was also the first time Battleoverdoyen had encountered heavy. Holds plenty of entries which suggests all is well. He was due to run on Sunday though the meeting was abandoned. Now rescheduled for Wednesday, the terms are pretty unfavourable in comparison to Allaho so not necessarily expecting a win. A good run will help confirm all is well, though I’m yet to be convinced that the Elliott yard are firing again! The main concern is the opposite to Samcro in that his record in the Spring isn’t great, but there has been excuses for that so I am prepared to give him one more chance. Has shown he has the class as a novice and looked up to this level when winning at Down Royal on seasonal return.

0.75pt e/w – Samcro @ 16/1 Paddy Power NRNB
0.5pt e/w – Battleoverdoyen @ 33/1 widely available

Stayers Hurdle

Often been a fairly weak division of late and a shock win last year from the 146 rated Lisnagar Oscar. However, promises so much more this season with Paisley Park looking somewhere close to his best and Thyme Hill coming out of the novice division to prove somewhat equal to Paisley Park in the two races we have seen between them this season. The pair set a very solid standard. I am also a big fan of Sire Du Berlais, who I tipped after last year’s Festival for this race at 16/1. Was a third of that price until beat at Leopardstown behind Flooring Porter. However, winner nicked a few lengths at the start and maintained it with those in behind finding it difficult to make up ground in the soft conditions. It was a fair race from Sire Du Berlais in third who I have said a number of times is from the Elliott yard that really struggled with form through the Christmas. Has a fantastic record at Cheltenham, peaking there the last couple of years and rated 158, he is well above the level last year’s winner had shown. 9/1 is still a fair price if you are not on, though the race is looking more competitive than it may have done a few months ago.

Continuing the theme of horses to run below par at Christmas for Gordon Elliott, you have another prime candidate in Fury Road. Closely matched with Thyme Hill from last year’s Albert Bartlett, though hasn’t shown to have trained on as well as that rival has so far. Don’t particularly like it when a horse has a couple of issues in a season either, which is rather off-putting. Was a non-runner from an engagement at Fairyhouse earlier in the season before running when the yard wasn’t right at Christmas. No engagement yet, his next run looks pretty important with regard Cheltenham. Best price of 20/1 is clearly good if returning to form, but just 12/1 NRNB, it’s not worth the risk for me.

Looking through collateral form then it also highlights Roksana, who has just two lengths to find with Thyme Hill and Paisley Park. Considering she is 14/1 and the other pair are best price 10/3 and 4/1 then she looks overpriced. The question is where will she find that extra 2 lengths? Didn’t do much wrong in defeat to the pair, one positive may be her better record at Cheltenham than Ascot where she is already a course winner having fortunately won the Mares hurdle in 2019. Readily outpaced in last year’s race by Honeysuckle and Benie Des Deux, her top three RPR have now all come at three miles. Is she value? Yes, she should be around 10/1 in my book (Prior to running on Saturday) but whether I can see her winning, I’m just not sure. Expect a good run without getting her head in front. Quick note that since I wrote this she won really well on Saturday, doing what was expected of her according to the betting. Now down to a best price of 14/1, she does have a shout, though as an ante-post bet there is a concern she will go for the mare’s hurdle instead, or even misses the Festival for Aintree.

It is not often you can still get 33/1 on the current champion but that is the case this year in Lisnagar Oscar. Not shown a great deal in two runs this season, but then hadn’t last year either before peaking at the right time. On a purely value basis then it looks a good price, though this year’s contest does look a lot tougher. Runner up in that race was Ronald Pump who rarely runs a bad race. Looked as good as ever this season and seems to be suited to big field contests with a good pace. However, not good enough to win it last year so don’t see why it should improve to win in 2021.

As you can probably tell from my writing, this looks a very open race and it is difficult to rule many out. On that basis alone it suggests that the prices of Thyme Hill and Paisley Park are too short. Because of that competitive nature though then it doesn’t make sense to be taking three places this far out when four or maybe even five could be had the day before. I have been bullish on the chances of Sire Du Berlais for this race for almost a year now and nothing I have seen changes my opinion that come Cheltenham he will have a great chance at a track he excels at. In my mind he should be nearer 6/1, so happy to recommend at 9/1.

1pt win – Sire Du Berlais @ 9/1 Bet365 & Skybet

Mares Novice Hurdle

A race normally dominated by Willie Mullins and who looks to have a strong hand once again. He has current favourite Gauloise who is probably only there for the fact Shewearsitwell is unlikely to make it to the race. Gauloise hasn’t done anything wrong but then arguably hasn’t done enough to justify her position in the market and is there more on the basis of being a Willie Mullins trained French bred. I have backed her personally at a bigger price after her first run. The current best price of 5/1 doesn’t offer any value though for what she has done so far.

At almost twice the price you could back Royal Kahala who beat another Mullins ‘hotpot’ in good style last time and seems to be improving all the time. Proven over further, if it turns into a slog at the trip then she would have a great chance. However, I wouldn’t rule out the mare who finished runner up to her there. Coming down to the last hurdle it looked a question of how far for Hook Up as she cruised into the lead. But she bundled the last and Royal Kahala stayed on strongly to win. I’m really not convinced that Hook Up stayed the 2m 2f on heavy ground here. She has a very interesting profile as a second season novice who ran in the Triumph hurdle last year on the back of just one start over hurdles. Thrown into the deep-end of a grade 3 where she finished 3rd to the eventual Triumph hurdle victor. She didn’t perform in the Triumph but looked very good when taking a maiden first time up this season before that run behind Royal Kahala. Last season Mullins won this race with a mare who had run in the mare’s novice race at the Festival the previous year so he has a history of winning this race with 2nd season novices. The worry is whether she will go for the race or not now she has been beat. If she has a prep then it is probably the difference between whether she runs or not.

Gypsy Island is third favourite with most bookmakers yet she hasn’t been seen on the course for almost two years. Clearly has ability having won 4 out of 4 bumpers, her only defeat came in a maiden hurdle when beaten by Put The Kettle On therefore she would be a second season novice. No idea if she will make it to the Festival so you would then be looking at 8/1 NRNB. It’s just not my style to be backing a mare with no proven hurdle form and at the moment going in on the back of a long absence, especially not at the price.

One who won’t lack for experience is The Glancing Queen who ran in the Champion Bumper twice having been kept to the flat for two years. Her only defeat over hurdles came when taking on the boys, finishing behind Ballymore favourite Bravemansgame and the useful Stargate. Didn’t need to be at her best to win a simple contest last time at 1/6 odds. Thought quick enough to run on the flat over 1m 4f in the summer, though didn’t do much in a couple of starts. May be possible she needs further but entitled to run her race. Just a concern there may be something a bit classier in the race to beat her.

If looking for something to make a late bid for the race then don’t rule out Gran Luna for Nicky Henderson. Comes with a big reputation, she won her only hurdles start back in November despite making a “terrible noise” when doing so, which saw her hobdayed and out for a month or so. Recent reports are promising with her due to run under a 10lb penalty at Wetherby on Thursday (7lb offset for the mare’s allowance) followed by a class 1 before the Mare’s novice at Cheltenham. Nice to know she is targeted at the race and if all being well her price of 40/1 could look very big, especially considering the trainers reputation.

Whilst I like Hook Up and hope my opinion of her being outstayed is correct, it concerns me that with Mullins having so many options for the race, you just don’t know whether she will run or not. Instead, I will take two others in The Glancing Queen and Gran Luna to back at this stage. The Glancing Queen has twice been to the Festival, running well the first time. She has plenty of racing experience and though she stays, she clearly has pace as well. I like the fact that the trainer wasn’t afraid to take on the big guns, the experience gained from that should be invaluable. To me she looks a very solid each way bet at the prices. I expect her to start the race in single figures if making it there. The insurance bet of NRNB is only a couple of points shorter so I will take that option. I will also have a small bet on Gran Luna with the intention of getting her in the book. If all goes to plan then she will be a lot shorter in the betting as a Henderson mare in form than the price she is now. Again, NRNB is 33/1 compared to a best of 40/1 which is very fair.  If it doesn’t go to plan then she won’t run, in which case there seems nothing to lose.

1pt e/w – The Glancing Queen @ 12/1 NRNB Paddy Power
0.5pt e/w – Gran Luna @ 33/1 NRNB Paddy Power