This week’s column you will find the following:
• The best performances from the weekend’s horse racing;
• The third part of my Cheltenham Festival Briefing, looking at the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle picture;
• My Cheltenham Festival ante-post betting portfolio;
• This week’s horses for your notebooks.
• The horse that I think is handicapped to go well in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham
Many Clouds Leaves The Best To Last
There could only be one performance of the weekend, as the 2015 Grand National winner, Many Clouds caused a bit of a shock when beating Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack in a thrilling finish to the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham. Sadly the 10 years old’s best ever run will be his last one as he collapsed and died after the race. His many fans will never forget him that’s for sure.
‘Well’ Takes The Eye At Doncaster
As to the performance with the future in mind, I was taken with the performance from the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on Saturday. The Nicky Richards trained Looking Well really caught my eye when finishing well from off the pace in the Sky Bet Chase. He never looked like he would catch the bold jumping Ziga Boy who was winning the race for the second year running but his connections will have taken plenty from this run. The 8-year-old had been off the track since winning a handicap chase at Kelso back in May. This was only his 5th start over fences and was a hot race to make his return in but he was open to plenty of improvement, His trainer felt before the race that the gelding would run a big race and he was proved correct. Granted he wasn’t at the sharp end of the race and was passing some tired horses over the final few fences but there was plenty to like about how he finished off his race and he did finish 9 lengths in front of the 3rd. He probably needs further than 3m at this level and his win at Kelso did come over 3m 2f. Step up in trip will suit him as will good ground. There is a nice handicap chase in the gelding on good ground.
Ante Post – Cheltenham Festival Briefing
Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle
For me, the least interesting of the Novice Hurdles at the Festival and this year’s renewal looks no exception. The race is run on the new course over 3m and it can be a stamina-sapping test whatever the ground is. The race was first run in 2005 when the Cheltenham Festival changed from the traditional 3 days to four days.
It’s not been a great race for favourites with only three market leaders winning the race since its first running. That said it’s not really been a race for big priced winners with the majority of winners being at single figure prices although the Mags Mullins trained Martello Tower was a surprise winner at 14/1 when winning a gruelling race on testing ground in 2015. This year’s favourite for the Stayers Hurdle the Harry Fry trained Uknowhatimeanharry won last year’s renewal at 9/1.
The race hinges on the participation of the Gordon Elliott trained Death Duty who is the sort priced ante-post favourite for the race at a best priced 5/2. He has claims to be the best-staying novice in Ireland after his recent win in the 2m 4f Grade 1 at Naas. That win made it 4 wins from 4 runs over hurdles for the son of Shantou. The six-year-old does have the option of going for the Neptune but on the likely good ground the 3m Albert Bartlett looks the ideal for the horse and is the race that connections have been heading the horse towards. All his wins have come on soft or heavy ground but the step to 3m on good ground should be fine for him.
I have already selected Bacardys for the Neptune Hurdle but he is shorter in the ante-post betting for this race and the 14/1 available with William Hill and it’s Festival Non-Runner Insurance offer is fine just in case the horse for this instead of the Neptune. There is no stand out Willie Mullins contender although his mares Augusta Kate and Lets Dance are shorter in the betting than Bacardys, neither really appeal to me at this point.
The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Wholestone is the leading British contender. He is an easy horse to place in a race and is the tough and durable just the sort that is needed for this race. The six year old won the 2m 4f Neptune Hurdle on Festival Trials Day. That win took his record at Cheltenham to 3 wins from 4 runs 4 places. He has already one of 3m at the track and is 2 wins from 2 runs when racing at around 3m. Will his jumping hold up in fast run Albert Bartlett on good ground? I am not sure about that as his jumping has tended to let him down and he did win this race despite not jumping particularly fluently at times. That said he likes the course and his stamina is at least guaranteed. If Death Duty improves for the step up to 3m and there is every chance he will, then he looks a bit ahead of the likely runners in terms of class.
Verdict: Death Duty looks the most likely winner of the race but if you haven’t got him at bigger prices available early in the season there is no value in his present price. Indeed there isn’t a whole lot of value in the ante-post market for any horse. Wholestone’s attitude impressed me when he won on Saturday, he likes the track and will stay but even at 8/1 his odds don’t tempt me in at present. Not a strong ante-post race at all and the most likely value will be found on the day and probably in the ‘without the favourite market’.
Cheltenham Festival Ante Post Betting Portfolio
As I mentioned last week that I would see how my Cheltenham Festival ante-post betting portfolio is looking. Only one of my ante post bets has so far gone with the retirement of Don Cossack. I am fairly pleased where I am with the portfolio although I wish I had got involved with Petit Mouchoir at Christmas and is now 4/1 for the Champion Hurdle
Supreme Novices Hurdle:
Bunk off Early – Advised 25/1 – Can still be backed at 25s – 1pt each way
Crack Mone – Advised 16/1 – Can still be backed at 16s – 1pt each way
Neptune Novices Hurdle:
Any Second Now – Advised 16/1 – Can still be backed at 16s -1pt each way
Bacardys – Advised 20/1 – Can be backed at 16s – 1pt each way
Don Cossack – Advised 12/1 – Retired – 1pt each way (lost)
Bristol De Mai – Advised 20/1 – Can be backed at 14s – 1pt each way
Minella Rocco – Advised 33/1 – Can be backed at 20s – 0.5pts each way
Jezki – Advised 14/1 – Can be backed at 8s – (This one could still go for the Champion Hurdle but hopefully not) – 1pt each way
My sole bet for a handicap so far:
Pertemps Handicap Hurdle
For Good Measure – Advised 16/1 – Can still be backed at 16s – 1pt each way
I have 15pts left in the portfolio and 2pts have gone with the retirement Don Cossack.
This Weeks Eyecatchers
There are three notebook horses for you this week and I will, of course, be adding a few more for Eyecatcher Pro subscribers:
Wednesday 25th January
Big Windmill – Tom George – The six-year-old was a point to point winner in Ireland and had finished a useful 3rd at the track over hurdles back in November. A big scopey horse that should make a better chaser than a hurdler! He was well backed on his chase debut but he took a false step after the third fence and unseated his rider. I was impressed with the way he had jumped the first two fences of the race and I will be surprised if he can’t win races over the larger obstacles.
Saturday 28th January
Wait For Me – Philip Hobbs – Trainer Philip Hobbs isn’t in the same form as he was at this time last season. The 7 year old wasn’t disgraced when returning to action at Kempton last month. Going off 9/2 favourite that day he ran well to enough but could only finish 6th and ran like the run was needed despite the pre-race market support for him. He was once again well backed before the off this time going off 7/2 favourite in what looked a competitive Class 2 handicap hurdle. Looked sure to go close two out and was still just in the lead coming to the last but had to settle for a 3 ¾ length 5th at the finish. A decent novice last year winning at winning at Newbury and Kempton but his best performance came when finishing 4th in last year’s County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, sent off one of the 7/1 joint-favourite for that race, he looked a well-handicapped horse before last year’s County Hurdle and still races off the same mark of 139. The first time hood the horse wore in last year’s race hasn’t been used on his two starts of this season and it will be interesting to see if it returns for his next race which is likely to be another tilt at the County Hurdle back here in March. He can be backed for that race at 25/1 with William Hill which I have taken. Hopefully the trainer will hit a purple patch in time for the Festival. If he does then he won’t be going off at 25/1.
Celtic Park – Tom Weston – The former point to point winner didn’t shine on his four starts over hurdles and was making his chase/handicap debut in this 3m Class 4 handicap chase. Now, heavy ground form at Uttoxeter doesn’t always work out elsewhere but you couldn’t fail to be impressed with the way he finished off his race here. He was still well behind three out but was staying really well at the end of the race to finish 2nd just ¾ length behind the winner. In a few more strides he would have pulled off an unlikely win. The handicapper will put him up for this run but hopefully not too much. Heavy ground clearly holds no terrors for the horse that should stay further on the evidence of this run. This was only his 5th run under rules so he is open to further progress and can surely rate higher than his present mark.
All that’s left is to wish you all a profitable weeks betting!