Cheltenham Festival – Day One
The opening day of the Festival might well be christened Willie Mullins Day such is the likelihood of sheer dominance by the Irish trainer. Any semblance of value disappeared over the horizon a couple of months back but it really is hard to see past a Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen & Annie Power four-timer. There’ll be plenty still loading up at current odds of close to 20/1. Every chance one will flop so a safer recommendation is to cover trebles & upwards and still make profit if one lets the stable down.
Douvan looks another superb novice prospect and is taken to follow stablemate Vautour’s success 12 months ago. We’ve not seen the full range of gears yet and the impression is that we might not have to, even in this ultimate test of novice hurdling. L’Ami Serge looks a rock solid each way bet to nothing at 9/2 and will be included in my each way festival multiple. Mightily impressive last two runs and has the master craftsman, Geraghty in the saddle. However, my value pick is Identity Thief, Gigginstown’s likely leading contender. Currently widely available at 33/1 ahead of this weekend’s outing in the Deloitte Novice at Leopardstown.
Recommend: Douvan in multiple win bet & L’Ami Serge in multiple place bet & Identity Thief 1pt E/W at 33/1
Surely this is the magnificent Un De Sceaux versus the fences. Despite no experience up the Cheltenham hill there appears to be little hope for his rivals save for a repeat of his fall at Thurles. His last six completed races in Ireland have seen winning margins of 15L, 12L, 16L, 53L, 29L and 13L. Sprinter Sacre’s heir apparent in waiting.
With Vautour likely to head for the JLT and Josses Hill not really convincing so far this season, Vibrato Valtat appears the outstanding each way value bet of the race. He’s proved a tough nut to crack this season and I’d expect a solid run from the Nicholls horse. Widely available at 14/1, he should have enough to make the place money.
Recommend: Un De Sceaux in multiple win bet & Vibrato Valtat 1pt E/W at 14/1
What looked like it would be a vintage year for champion hurdlers at the end of last season has been reduced to a handful of serious contenders.
The top two in the market look solid. The New One, arguably could have won this race 12 months ago, save for being hampered by the tragic demise of Our Conor. He finished like a winner and despite the fact he sometimes takes a furlong or two to go through the gears, it’s difficult to see The New One finish out of the top two in strongly run race. But Faugheen looks the real deal. Impressive over further, winning the Neptune last season, Faugheen still has the acceleration to win a race of this nature. His lack of action against the top contenders might be a concern for those backing at odds around evens but as long as the jumping holds up under the pressure of a serious championship race then I’d take Faugheen to win this by at least a couple of lengths under Ruby Walsh.
There’ll be plenty of racing fans who’d love to see Hurricane Fly maintain outstanding seasonal form and recapture his old crown but Cheltenham doesn’t play to his strengths and I suspect the legendary champion will do well to make the place money. Jezki has been in the Fly’s pocket all season but last March is still fresh in the memory and there’s every reason to believe we’ll see the best of him on the day. Barry Geraghy is 5 wins from 5 races on the reigning champ and if he takes the mount I’d expect Jezki to be a value each way call at 6/1.
But an even better value bet might be Arctic Fire at 16/1 who hasn’t been running too far behind Hurricane Fly in Ireland this season and eventually finished in front of Jezki last time after a poor jump at the last by his rival. He ran a great race in the County Hurdle last year, finishing second and has age in hand on his rivals which might mean there is still more to come.
Recommend: Faugheen in multiple win bet & Jezki in multiple place bet & Arctic Fire 1pt E/W at 16/1
This time last year, Annie Power was the princess of National Hunt racing. Unbeaten and cited as a Cheltenham sure thing wherever she was destined to race. In the end, Mullins sent the mare for the World Hurdle and despite looking all over a winner, she didn’t quite stay the 3m. Back down to 2m4f it’s hard to see a chink in the armour. I’d be concerned about her not being seen on course since last May if it wasn’t for the record of ex-stablemate and champion mare, Quevega.
Unless the market vibes are poor, Annie Power is a Festival banker in the absence of a challenge from any other truly top class mares. The suspicion remains that she could hold her own in either the Champion Hurdle or the World Hurdle. That’s easily good enough to win the Mares with possibly as much as a stone in hand.
Recommend: Annie Power in multiple win bet
Cheltenham Festival – Day Two
I have to take on the top two in the market, both proven champion chasers. But both have had recent times seriously disrupted by problems, especially the mighty Sprinter Sacre who did as well as could reasonably be expected on his long-awaited comeback. But Cheltenham will be more demanding yet and while it’s too soon to write off the best 2m chaser of his generation, he looks a risky proposition. At 11/4 I’m still tempted but I think it might be a case of extreme outcomes. Either a gutsy, return in a blaze of glory, victory or Barry Geraghty will take it easy and pull him up if the race goes against him.
It’s difficult to know what to make of Sire De Grugy. His imminent comeback run will tell us more but again the absence is worrying and he’s not quite the force Sprinter Sacre was in his pomp. Dodging Bullets has really been the most consistent two miler in the UK on this season’s evidence and looks a solid EW proposition at 9/2. But better value lies with Champagne Fever who always seems to come good at the Festival and if indeed he heads for the Champion then both the 8/1 or 7/1 NRNB seem decent bets.
Further out in the betting, Uxizandre still catches my eye at 16/1 (14/1 NRNB). He comfortably took care of Dodging Bullets earlier in the season and despite flopping in Ireland can bounce back and repeat his fine run of twelve months ago.
Recommend: Dodging Bullets in multiple place bet & Champagne Fever 3pt E/W at 8/1 & Uxizandre 1pt E/W at 16/1
Royal & Sun Alliance Chase
Unlike the Champion Chase, only the top two in the market interest me. Don Poli will be shorter on the day for whichever race he starts of the 4m race on Tuesday or the RSA. It’s hard to call which race he’ll go for so is best avoided for now and picked up at the likely shorter price once intentions are confirmed. He’s a serious player and will be difficult to beat. Kings Palace was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2014 Festival in the Albert Bartlett but is expected to leave that form well behind after some outstanding novice chasing form this season. A course winner, sensibly priced and is a decent EW punt. I’d cover him now at this price and then back Don Poli to win, if he turns up.
Recommend: Kings Palace 3pts E/W at 11/2
Cheltenham Festival – Day Three
I didn’t really expect Vautour to be lining up in this race earlier in the season when hacking up on his chasing debut. I think Vautour, outstanding in last season’s Supreme, is the ‘value banker’ of the Festival at 3/1. For some reason, Un De Sceaux’s fall has been wiped from the memory bank yet observers are scrutinising Vautour’s error that led to him finishing behind Clarcam on his penultimate race.
He has a fine rival in Ptit Zig who has been in brilliant form but it’s difficult to see the Irish raider being beaten if the jumping holds up. Willie Mullins described him as being on a different level to Faugheen when hacking up last March. Same again will be enough. I can’t ignore Ptit Zig either at odds of 4/1 and I’d also be interested in some each-way multiple action. Or dutch the pair in win combinations that will pay odds against.
Recommend: Vautour in multiple win bet / Ptit Zig in multiple each-way / Dutch bet 10pts split between the two.
I also like the look of Edeymi in the Pertemps Final who looks to have been placed shrewdly this season after a long lay-off with a view to racing off the same weight as when runner up at the Festival in 2012.
Recommend: Edeymi 1pt E/W at 14/1 with Bet 365
This looks one of the most open championship races despite last year’s winner, Dynaste missing out due to injury.
The favourite is solid enough. Don Cossack has come on massively this season and has looked progressive all along. After falling in the RSA last Festival, I’d only be concerned about the hustle, bustle and intensity of a championship race keeping him out of the places. Other than the favourite, Cue Card has every chance of returning to the sort of form that saw him win this race comfortably two seasons ago. His Cheltenham record is outstanding, the Festival in particular, and he warrants attention at 7/1 in the betting.
Taquin Du Seuil was touted as a Gold Cup hopeful earlier in the season and off the back of a poor run and some problems has been largely forgotten about. Ahead of a return at Newbury this weekend, there might still be value about him to run a repeat of last season’s JLT victory. He won’t be 16/1 if he wins the Denman.
Recommend: Don Cossack 3pts E/W at 4/1 & Taquin Du Seuil 1pt E/W at 16/1
Looks a competitive renewal with question marks hanging over some of the main protagonists. The favourite and last year’s impressive winner, More Of That has only raced once this season and did so badly. At the moment, he is best avoided. Rock On Ruby’s stamina is unproven, though a gutsy battler and likely to give it a best shot. It’s difficult to see what Zarkandar can do any different to last season. Saphir Du Rheu seems the most solid option of the leading contenders in the market at 7/1 after outbattling Reve De Sivola in receipt of weight last time out. With that his first run over 3m and the prospect of better ground come March, it’s likely there is more scope and he seems a solid each way proposition.
However, David Pipe’s Un Temps Pour Tout ran a fine comeback race only a couple of lengths back in the same race (all be it with a slight weight advantage) having been well backed beforehand. I fancy major improvement and sense exceptional race value at 16/1. He’ll come on fitness wise and with only seven races on the clock has bags of progression in hand.
Beat That flopped on his seasonal appearance over an inadequate distance but if race-fit could prove equal value to the Pipe runner. The Henderson charge looked a champion at Punchestown and Aintree last and may just be an viable alternative.
Recommend: Saphir Du Rheu in each way multiple & Un Temps Pour Tout 2pts E/W at 16/1 & Beat That 1pt E/W at 16/1
Cheltenham Festival – Day Four
Nicky Henderson dominates the market with clear favourite, Peace and Co, Hargam and Top Notch all impressing this season. The first named is quite rightly the favourite and has been scintillating to date but is too short for a race of this nature. Irish firm, Paddy Power are best priced 2/1.
Backing Willie Mullins second string has been a profitable strategy this season and though Kalkir seems like he’ll be the ride of Ruby Walsh, I’m going to select Dicosimo who is best priced 25/1 and comfortably beat some good yardsticks at Gowran Park under a Walsh ride. With expected improvement he could get very competitive and challenge the Henderson dominance.
Recommend: Dicosimo 1pt E/W at 25/1
The Gold Cup
The favourite, Silviniaco Conti sets the standard. Though there’s about half a dozen others who could win the Festival showpiece, one suspects any horse that finishes ahead of this season’s best chaser will prevail. Conti looks rock solid in a place accumulator and will surely be there at the finish. Road To Riches and Many Clouds are progressive types who could yet go onto greater things but I’m not sure the March ground will suit the latter and the Irish runner is unproven over further than 3m and Cheltenham.
It’s hard to think that the last two Gold Cup winners, Lord Windermere and Bob’s Worth, finished in the last two places in the Lexus. And that the latter went off 5/2 favourite that day yet is now 16/1 to repeat his thrilling 2013 success. He loves Cheltenham more than any other horse in training and wasn’t exactly disgraced last year when only 4L off the pace. For this reason, I’d overlook the poor Lexus run and cite the Henderson warrior as decent each way value.
For Lord Windermere’s part, he might have finished in a poor position, but he ran 11 lengths off the winner in the Lexus, exactly the same as the previous year behind Bob’s Worth. I wouldn’t be discounting.
But searching for value digs out two other contenders who I propel to the top of my shortlist. It might be at least a year too soon for Djakadam but his progressive profile means he can’t be ruled out from thinking at 16/1.
However, I have a nagging feeling that Holywell has been laid out for the Gold Cup and am happy to back each way at 14/1. He has won at the last two Cheltenham Festivals and was simply stunning at Aintree last Spring, when he seems to come into his own.
Recommend: Silviniaco Conti in place accumulators & Holywell 2pts E/W at 14/1 & Djakadam 1pt E/W at 16/1