The third week of August. Football is back, England are playing test cricket, people are in the midst of their summer holidays, and the York Ebor Meeting is less than 24 hours away.
So of course, now is the right time to think about the best ante-posts for Cheltenham Festival 2019!
Many readers here will have been struggling to cope without their proper jump racing fix – outside of the Galway Festival – especially during a flat season beset with injury, but let’s looks ahead to March as there can be big benefits to playing so early.
With targets somewhat undecided, fences and hurdles not jumped, and attention away from the prime performances of last season, there can be many decent prices to be had and several very strong positions to be made, so let’s look at the best bets for next season.
1 pt each/way Kalashnikov, Arkle (14/1 Betfair, Paddy Power), 1 pt each/way Kalashnikov, JLT (25/1 Coral)
One of the most progressive improvers of last season, Amy Murphy’s star turn went from 139 to 154 in a whirlwind campaign that saw him finish second only to the Supreme winner Summerville Boy in the Tolworth before taking apart a strong Betfair Hurdle and then finishing a fine runner up in the Supreme Novices at the Festival itself. That he has already beaten elders bodes very well for his first season chasing and it’s already the plan as confirmed by Amy Murphy: “He is a chaser in the making and he will have a school over fences towards the end of the week before we wind him down and turn him out.
“He will definitely be a better chaser, without a shadow of a doubt. When you look at him, he is a big frame of a horse and he has still got plenty of filling out to do.
“We will start him of over two miles. Whether that is where we stick, I don’t know as I thought he wanted further this season. He will tell us where to go.”
Courtesy of his impressive Doncaster win, we know he’ll go on better ground should we have a drier Spring than last year, and should he take to fences like his shape suggests he should, then he should take very high rank again with Summervile Boy staying over hurdles.
He is also worth backing for the JLT at 25/1, in case connections want to run him over further.
1 pt each/way Summerville Boy, Champion Hurdle (16/1 Hills, Betfred, Boylesports, Totesport)
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle reads like a good race in hindsight and the more one watches the race the more impressive it is he managed to be seriously involved after the shuddering mistake he made at the second last which put him back on his heels. He went from a strong travelling second to sixth in a stride but managed to recover himself to edge a tight battle with Kalashikov and grind out the win.
He is value for more than that winning margin and the form reads even better when one looks at the timing, given that he ran marginally faster than Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air. There was a stronger pace in the Supreme early, but the closing sections are still taking in their own right. He’s a stout stayer who does like to get his toe in, but that has never been an issue in a Champion Hurdler and the step up does not seem beyond any of the previous year’s novices.
Buveur D’Air is obviously a fine horse, but Melon’s Supreme had not worked out and there was a neck between them at the line last season with the division crying out for new talent.
1 pt each/way Santini, RSA Chase (12/1 general)
There are some different targets for many of the horses in the possibles, but it would be a surprise to see Santini go for anything but the RSA and Nicky Henderson’s giant looks to be one of the ready made contenders. A very taking winner on his Newbury debut, he was given a 50-day break and then pitched into Graded company on Trials Day, a move that proved inspired as he found his second win up the hill to beat Black Op.
He was third when sent off as favourite for Albert Bartlett, a particularly brutal renewal this year, and that run would have played an important part in his progression. Burnout would have been a worry after such a hard race, but the gutsy attitude he showed when winning the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle suggested he’d taken that effort in his stride and after a break he should be able to improve once again after just four runs.
The form of his Grade 2 win is rock solid, given that Black Op was second to Samcro in the Ballymore and then won the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, and 3 miles and more over fences already looks tailor made for a trainer who has used this route in the past.
1 pt each/way Monalee, Ryanair (16/1 Betfair, Paddy Power)
This comes with a health warning. Henry De Bromhead’s Monalee has fallen in two of his chases, won two of them, and on the other occasion he was a seven length second to Presenting Percy in the RSA Chase. That was a strong performance given that the winner is the favourite for the Gold Cup, and it’s worth remembering that Monalee was seven lengths ahead of the previous Graded winner Elegant Escape. On a line through fourth Ballyoptic (beaten a nose in the Scottish Grand National) the RSA was well upto standard and Monalee’s win in the Flogas Novice Chase has also worked out very well.
He was going very well until falling in the Nevile Hotels Novice Chase last Christmas and he was still pitching in with every chance until taking a tumble at the Punchestown Festival, so the raw ability is clearly there if he can stay up.
The worry is whether the Ryanair is the target, but with Presenting Percy headed towards the Gold Cup the idea of a more winnable race could tempt connections and the JLT was mooted last yea by De Bromhead.
“The RSA is a possible but the JLT might be an option as well, we’ll have to see how he comes out of this now but he’s got the pace for the JLT, too, I think.”
The John Durkan could be a starting position for him and he could also drop back later in the season, in which case he could be shorter than 16/1 with a number of quoted horses unlikely to go for the Ryanair.
1 pt each/way The Dutchman, Grand National, (50/1 general)
After four recommended for the Cheltenham Festival 2019, let’s have one bash at the National! Yes. The Grand National. In August.
It’s one of three non-festival races that are offered and with 20/1 and above the field, you can always get a decent price. Horses that didn’t complete the year before will not jump out as contenders for next year’s race but The Dutchman was going so sweetly when he came down at Foinavon that 50/1 is worth taking even in the summer.
He had looked an ideal contender for a soft ground National when smashing the field by 13 lengths in the Tommy Whittle Chase after two warm up runs over hurdles, and he broke a blood vessel in the Grand National trial after that, but when returned back to health, he was travelling as sweetly as anything at Aintree before unseating at Foinavon of all fences second time round.
Harry Cobden confirmed as much, and this will surely be the target next year, with runs over hurdles likely to preserve his mark – a reasonable one still even at 148.
Cheltenham Festival 2019 ticket update
Champion Day – 12th March 2019
Ladies Day – 13th March 2019
St Patrick’s Thursday – 14th March 2019
Cheltenham Gold Cup Day – 15th March 2019
Save up to £14 on tickets to The Festival™
Offer Expires 30th November 2018 at 10:59am
The current ticket prices for The Cheltenham Festival™ 2019 can be found below:
Champion Day, Ladies Day & St Patricks Day
Club Tickets: £76.00
Tattersalls Tickets: £46.00
Best Mate Tickets: £31.00
Gold Cup Day
Club Tickets: £96.00
Tattersalls Tickets: £66.00
Best Mate Tickets: £51.00