The act of procrastination is one that always comes around to bite you in the arse somewhere along the line. And, guess what? I’ve just been bitten. Two weeks ago, when I agreed to writing this piece, said horse was 8/1 for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Now, due to “doing other things” it’s now 5/1 and I’m telling you the value has all but gone. So, what is the point I hear you say? Well, the good thing is, the 5/1 that is widely available will not be available come Thursday 12th March, that’s one thing for sure, so it could still represent slight value, if nothing else. That’s the way to look at this. Better late than never, some say. The horse in question is the Tony Martin trained gelding, Benefficient, who as aforementioned, is available to back at 5/1. I fancy this one for a number of reasons. It’s almost a written rule that course form at Cheltenham is a must when backing at the Festival as horses who have ran well here in the past, often go close again. Two years ago, in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, this horse was right up in contention until weakening rapidly coming down the hill, (suggesting something was amiss) in the race which the flawless Simonsig won that day. From an early age, it was clear to see he was always going to be a chaser due to his size and scope. Ruby Walsh rode him as a novice hurdler and made it rather clear that he had talent, but was always a “big baby”. Since he started a career over fences last season, he was always been valued as an underdog, but oh so often he triumphs. He won the Irish Arkle by 20 lengths followed by a powerful winning performance in the Jewson at the Festival last year, when jumping Dynaste into the ground. This season, he started his campaign in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, where 4 out, he was upsides and looked like the one to beat, before the soft ground and the extra distance caught him out on his seasonal jumps debut. He’s since gone on to win the Dial-a-Bet chase over the festive period when convincingly beating a star-studded cast including the well fancied Arvika Ligeonniere. He’s still in the Champion Chase, just in case Sprinter Sacre doesn’t line up but the word on the rumour mill is that the favourite will be taking part in the Wednesday showpiece as he’s back to his usual “black aeroplane” self. With Cue Card and First Lieutenant going for the Gold Cup, Benefficient’s price is going to diminish sooner than later, as soon as the three horses just mentioned get final confirmation of their target. I’d suggest backing Benefficient at 5/1 EW with a bet to nothing if he gets placed. Good luck, fellow punters.
Now, if there’s one division that I feel has been unusually weak this year; it’s novice hurdlers. It’s been a very long while since, mid-way through January, when they bet 10/1 the field in the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Paul Nicholls’ Irving has looked the best-of-a-bad bunch, but I’m not convinced he’s beaten a lot at all. In fact, the form of his last race at Ascot couldn’t possibly get worse, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t live up to expectations.
However, one novice hurdler from the Nicholls’ yard that I do see going extremely well at Cheltenham, is 25/1 shot Port Melon, in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. The Ditcheat handler has learnt about the consequences of hyping up horses but did make some very loud noises about this Graham Roach owned gelding, before the season had begun. He’s won two points when in the care of Richard Barber and he made his seasonal debut in the 2m5f graded hurdle at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting, which speaks volumes in itself. From two-out, he looked all over the winner, but got caught for toe and then stayed on again to finish third, in a season where every runner from this yard have needed their first run.
The runner up in that race had previously won a Grade 2 hurdle and then went on to finish second in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle, so the form is fairly reasonable. Expect him to take a novice hurdle or two before before lining up the Albert Bartlett, for which he will not be 25/1 if all goes to plan. Although, I must add, he does already look a chaser in the making, so expect him to be a likely type for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham Festival 2015.