With the first full jumps programme taking place in England and Ireland since before Christmas, there has been plenty of racing to look at with a view to the Cheltenham Festival. With only 50 days to go before the gates of Prestbury Park swing open, I take a look at each of the main Festival races whose contenders have been in action this weekend.
Supreme Novices Hurdle
Starting with the opener on the Tuesday…at Haydock yesterday, Peddlers Cross won the first race impressively but this was small field soft ground race so whilst he could be smart, caution is advised. He is a best priced 25/1 for this with Hills and Betfred but punters should be aware that he also holds and entry in the Neptune Novices Hurdle on the Wednesday of the Festival. Rite Of Passage won the opening maiden hurdle today at Leopardstown going away by 3 lengths. Available at a best priced 20/1 this morning with Corals, they continue to offer the best price at time of writing of 14/1. This seems pretty short to me given that this was only a maiden hurdle and he was expected to win. Add the fact that his target could be the Neptune and he has to beat Dunguib in this it’s hardly a generous price. Amazingly, Blue Square go half those odds at a ludicrous 7/1. This is typical overeaction by a bookie of a winner in the couple of months leading up to the Festival. Menorah as also cut by totesport to 7/1 today. I’m not putting him up as a tip as he’s too short, but I have felt since he won the bumper that Dunguib is something special and will win this.
Sports Line was strongly backed today and started favourite to take the Irish Arkle but he could only manage second behind An Cathaoir Mor. He is trained by Henry De Bromhead who now has a strong hand in the Arkle as his stable also houses leading hope Sizing Europe. Today’s winner has been introduced at 16/1 into the market by Paddy Power – view full Arkle market. I think this is a fair price although I doubt An Cathaoir Mor will quite have the pace of the more obvious contenders. It should be noted that this was a small field racing on heavy ground (soft in places). This result was a boost to the form of favourite Captain Cee Bee who beat the winner by 5 lengths at Naas last month. Bookies took the view that his chances had been boosted and he’s a short as 4/1 with Bet365, Corals and others. There was little change to the price of Sports Line who remains around 20/1 and today’s faller Zaarito who is a best priced 25/1 with Victor Chandler. Further evidence for this race will be available after leading contender Tataniano runs at Newbury for Paul Nicholls on Friday. At this stage, he’s the one I like and I might put him up as a tip this week.
After yesterday’s Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock and today’s Irish Champion hurdle, Solwhit is the new favourite having one the latter impressively at Leopardstown. He goes to Cheltenham with a leading chance in what remains a very open race. Interestingly, Ladbrokes have kept him at 6/1 although the two Irish bookies (Paddy Power and Boylesports) are half those odds. Jump in at Ladbrokes if you fancy Solwhit as I think it’s a fair price and it’s unlikely to be available for much longer. The disappointment of the race was this blog’s Champion Hurdle selection Celestial Halo, who is now out to 20/1 having been recommended here at 14/1. My hope is that better ground in the Spring in a race he ran well in last year will spark a return to form on the 16 March. It should be remembered that he disappointed in his warm-up before the Triumph in 2008 so maybe history will repeat itself. Fingers crossed! Yesterday, Medermit beat hot favourite and reigning Champion Hurdler, Punjabi at Haydock to enter calculations. I do like the way this horse travels so powerfully and I think he’s run well. There was further shortening of this odds today although 16/1 is still available at Hills and sportingbet. Punjabi, disappointed again and perhaps like Celestial Halo he is a good ground spring horse. Best price is 16/1 which is pretty big for a reigning Champion Hurdler. There are many chances here but having put up Celestial Halo, I’m sticking with him.
No positives for this race at the weekend but worth noting a couple of negatives. Whiteoak, winner of the Mares Hurdle in 2008, was disappointing at Ascot having been beaten a country mile and will be freshened up before going straight to Cheltenham. Also at Ascot, Stravinsky Dance was beaten a similar distance in the handicap hurdle. She will run in the Tote Gold Trophy before plans are made for Cheltenham by trainer Nicky Henderson, who had a number of horses run poorly at the weekend. At this stage, last year’s winner Quevega looks nailed on for this but is too short for betting purposes at 5/4.
Neptune Investments Novices Hurdle
Moving onto the Wednesday races…the positive indicators for the Neptune concerned Rite Of Passage and Peddlers Cross who have been discussed under the Supreme Novices Hurdle heading. Rite Of Passage was cut from a best priced 14/1 for this and currently trades at 10/1 or less. Peddlars Cross is a best priced 16/1. Difficult to guess the targets for these two but I suspect they might both run in this, which at this stage seems less competitive. Favourite for the Neptune this morning was Quel Esprit but having been turned over at 3/10 is now on the drift and looks less of a likely winner. He also holds an entry in the Albert Bartlett. I’ve been very taken by Quantativeeasing, the new favourite, and at this stage he would be my fancy although I’m not putting him up as a tip…although I might! Watch this space.
Diamond Harry put up a very impressive performance in his first run over fences against a small but quality field. He is 8/1 with Ladbrokes but I’m not sure that he has enough time to get enough experience in for the rough and tumble of a Grade 1 novice chase. He would be some horse indeed if he were to win at Cheltenham. There is no doubt he has class though and perhaps connections will regret that they did not send him chasing earlier. However, they were delighted with the result yesterday and good luck to them. My pick for the RSA Chase, Bensalem was challenging Diamond Harry when he came down three out. I hope my neighbours have forgiven me for my yell as he hit the deck! It would have been interesting if he’d stayed on his feet and I don’t agree at all with the RUK commentator who said that Diamond Harry would have won anyway. Bensalem jumped poorly throughout and like the winner needs more experience. He remains a 25/1 chance and I haven’t yet lost hope.
The action concerning this race centred around Quel Esprit who this morning was vying for favouritism with Tell Massini. As noted under the Neptune Investments Hurdle heading the former was beaten today and is on the drift in this race too. Given his lack of pace at the end of this 2m 4f race today I think this could be the more likely target as it looks like a 3 mile trip would suit the horse. Tell Massini is a best priced 5/1 with Bet 365 whilst Quel Esprit is top price at 7/1 with Corals. I suggest that 7/1 could turn out to be generous if he Quel Esprit lines up for this. At this stage though I fancy stable mate Enterprise Park who is available at 12/1. Not an official blog tip though.
Advisor, one of several contenders for the Triumph from Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls yard, won well at Ascot yesterday. He remains a top price 25/1 chance with Skybet. It seems that the trainer is unsure of the pecking order of his juveniles and there are plenty of cards to be played from his and other yards. At this stage I like Mille Chief trained by Alan King who has a great record in this race. The horse has stacks of improvement to come and is well thought of by connections. He’s the favourite and is a best price 9/1 with Paddy Power – full Triumph market.
By the way, did I mention that there are only 50 days to go? Just 50 days!