Hinterland currently sits second in the betting at between 8/1 and 12/1 he has some high quality form to his name. Ran in 3 novice chases last year and was runner up on each occasion but he was beaten by Theatre Guide, Captain Conan and Sprinter Sacre so that’s pretty solid from a four year old. Has won both starts this season the most recent of these being the Henry VIII Novice Chase which is usually a good pointer for Arkle horses. He beat Grandouet, Taquin Du Seuil, Claret Cloak, Balder Success and Mantriverstocross putting in a solid round of jumping after looking outpaced early. Hard to knock him and the experience he brings from last season will stand him in good stead but the price just put’s me off and while he looks on the upgrade I can’t help but feel we can get him beat. Grandouet is up next at between 8/1 and 12/1 and with a hurdles rating of 166 he is one of the classiest horses in the race. Trained by Nicky Henderson who is looking for his third Arkle in as many years, he is high on many peoples shortlist but not mine. While his hurdles form is top class, for me he’s a horse who has never found a great deal off the bridle and in two chase starts he has failed to convince me that he either jumps well enough (unseated on his first start after some terrible leaps early) or will grind out a win (travelled into the Henry VIII well enough but didn’t ever look like winning). I feel the price is based on what he did previously rather than what he has shown so far and it would be a shock if he was good enough to take this prize. Dodging Bullets is next and another Paul Nicholls inmate. Priced at 12/1 to 14/1 he was a fair 4th in the Triumph Hurdle on his second start over timber he has always looked the type to excel over fences which so far he has done. Won his debut in good style from Turn Over Sivola when he looked in need of the outing and put in a few sticky jumps but overall seemed to be enjoying himself and followed up at Cheltenham in very taking fashion. Looked to be well at home and jumped the field into submission beating Raya Star a comfortable 5 lengths. He is 3 wins from 5 starts at Cheltenham and with two runs at the Festival he has experience of the pressure cooker that is Prestbury Park in March, but he did run a awful race in last years Supreme Novice Hurdle so I do advise some caution if adding him to your ante-post portfolio. H is a contender and his price seems very fair. Oscar Whisky is up next and is another for Nicky Henderson and is priced at 14/1 to 16/1. A multiple Grade 1 winning hurdler he has run at the last 4 Festivals and placed once in the Champion Hurdle behind Hurricane Fly and Peddlers Cross. Has had one chase start so far at Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting when beaten a neck by Taquin Du Seuil after setting a sedate pace over 2m 4f110y. His jumping didn’t convince me but it did improve once the pace picked up. Seem’s a bit of a afterthought by connections to send him novice chasing at the age of 8 so he’d be 9 when the tapes go up for the Arkle. No doubt he has the class to win but his jumping was far from fluent. Gained another victory at Cheltenham’s International Meeting yesterday. Mr Mole at 16/1 is a interesting candidate for top honours and once again comes from the Paul Nicholls yard. Quirky but possessing bags of ability he threw away the Swinton Hurdle and Sporting Life Pony Racing Graduates Handicap Hurdle last season with his wayward tendencies but he looked a different horse on his chase debut. Jumped for fun and won with any amount in hand from French import Vukovar who looks a real nice type but possibly in need of further. I await Mr Mole’s next outing with interest and if he is free of his quirks he could be a serious danger to all. Valdez from Alan King’s yard is one who didn’t fly quite so high as many of these over hurdles but he looks a real prospect based on his two chase starts. Won on his chase debut at Exeter with one semblance of a mistake, otherwise his jumping was foot perfect and he looks to have grown during the off season. Went off to Newbury next and came home in splendid isolation with again just one mistake in a otherwise perfect round of jumping. His task was probably made easier with his main market rival Black River crashing out, but he looks a horse going places and Alan King could well have another Voy Por Ustedes on his hands. The current prices are between 14/1 and 20/1 and he looks good value. I look forward to seeing him upped in class. Rock On Ruby for Harry Fry sits at 16/1 and could be a late comer to the party. Runner up in the Neptune he has won the Champion Hurdle and ran a fair second in last season’s renewal and has 3 wins and 3 places from 6 starts at Cheltenham. Rated 170 over hurdles and if he translates that to fences he could be some horse. He’ll need to be a natural to switch codes with so little time to the main event. Entered in a novice chase this week it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on. Pendra from Charlie Longsdon’s stable is available at 25/1 after two decent victories and merits a mention here. Won his first 3 starts over timber then ran a respectable second in the Tolworth Hurdle to Melodic Rendezvous then bombed out in the Coral Cup looking ill at ease in such a big field handicap. Took in what was effectively a match race at Carlisle and got the better of Eduard due to that one making a bad blunder two out when seemingly holding every chance (has since trotted up at Carlisle in a Class 3 event). Followed up with another nice win at Lingfield and really won as he liked and didn’t put a foot wrong although did jump violently left at the first but can forgive that as otherwise he looked very professional. Charlie will place him well in the build up to Cheltenham and his next race will tell us a bit more about his chances. Balder Success is another from Alan King and his price is now between 20/1 and 40/1 after his poor showing in the Henry VIII at Sandown. But considering he has never won going right handed this may be an overreaction from the layers. Won well enough on debut in a Class 2 event. He then went to Cheltenham and despite hitting a couple he was 2 lengths up and looking good for the win when crashing out gifting the race to Dark Lover who was making his debut (since crashed out at Exeter when well beaten at the time). Alan wasted little time getting him off to Warwick and he flew home in a good time beating Baby Mix, who won next time out as he liked. He tends to hit the odd fence and Sandown was never going to suit him but if he brushed up his fencing he could be one to watch for come March and 40/1 is too big in my opinion.
Where else should we start but with the market leader and two time Festival winner Champagne Fever. Already a 4 time Grade 1 winner and still only 6 he is a class act. Trained by Willie Mullins often looks for a horse who will improve for a fence and on his sole chase start it was hard not to be impressed. 2m4f around Punchestown may not seem a typical starting point for a 2m chaser but he looked magnificent putting in a exhibition round of jumping and won very comfortably with the promise of much more to come. It was a perfect introduction and he’ll be slowly brought to the boil for March. Felix Yonger is 3 from 3 over fences and is available at between 9/1 and 14/1 so if he takes your eye shop around. Ran a fair second to Simonsig in the Neptune of 2012 and has won a Grade 1 at Naas but it looks like chasing is bringing out the best in him. Looked comfortable when beating White Star Line at Punchestown over 2m4f then went into a Grade 2 contest and beat Defy Logic who had looked very impressive previously hacking up at Naas and 6 others who had all already won over fences so was no mean feat on only his second start. Destroyed Trifolium on his latest start, who also had won his chase debut looking a smart prospect himself with The Paparrazi Kid miles back in third (another last time out winner). Currently he holds some very strong form lines but the suggestion is that he may be heading for the Jewson and it’s hard to put him up as an ante-post bet in light of this. Interesting wherever he turns up though. Dessie Hughes trains Art Of Logistics and he can be backed at 20/1 but he isn’t in most bookies lists. He skipped Cheltenham last season in favour of Punchestown and finished a fair fourth behind Jezki and Champagne Fever but he has always looked a raw chasing type. Won comfortably on debut at Gowran Park then followed up at Punchestown in a disappointing Grade 3 chase. Well beaten in a top class Drinmore Novice Chase, he may have more too offer if dropped back to minimum trip for his next run. Jumps for fun and wouldn’t be writing him off just yet although he does seem to be kept to right handed tracks. He has had two cracks at Grade 1 company and both without success. Rebel Fitz from Micheal Winter’s Co Cork base made hay through the summer with 5 wins over fences and looks a great prospect. A winner on all types of ground and with victories at 2m1f to 2m6f and right or left handed he is very versatile and I half hope he shows up in March for the Jewson. Ended up in a match race with Third Intention at Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting and was pretty well beaten. But considering it was his first start out of Ireland and had taken in 6 chases already since May, perhaps he just needed a break. Either way, his from doesn’t look good enough to me but Barry Geraghty rates him highly and I’ll be watching for him if he runs in March just not in this race.
Really you want to be following a 7 or 8 year old who has yet to finish out the first two on all completed starts and was rated 140 over timber and has a Grade 1 or 2 win to their name. No real surprises but Champagne Fever is the early call and while 10/3 is skinny for ante-post the weight of money already speaks volumes about how highly regarded he is at Closutton. I can see this field cutting up quite badly and if he gets here with another 2 wins under his belt I estimate he’d be going off at around the 7/4 mark or less. Ruby Walsh will be doing the steering and with the form of the Supreme Novice Hurdle looking red hot it’s hard to not be taken by this dashing grey. As a value alternative I’m also suggesting a small each way investment on Valdez at 20/1. He looks a horse on the upgrade and has already gone beyond what he achieved over hurdles. Has valuable experience around Cheltenham over hurdles, he goes well left handed and undulating tracks hold no fears and handles a variety of surfaces. His two chases have been very pleasing to the eye and Alan knows what’s required to win the race with two winners under his belt. I would like to see him once more before March to record another win to secure he place in the line up. Arkle ante-post advice from www.rogergreenracing.co.uk Champagne Fever – 2 pts win 10/3 generally available Valdez – 0.5pts each way 20/1 Ladbrokes (affiliate link)