Welcome back to the first edition of my Cheltenham clues blog series. Last season this series was good fun and I hope that a few of you enjoyed reading it, the advised antepost bets did ok in the end, ending up with around 7pts profit which wasn’t bad considering we were nominating targets a few weeks before the festival took place. For any new readers, basically it’s a blog post talking about recent events in the National Hunt season and trying to fit together the pieces of the puzzle to see if we can get any profit on the antepost market. We will still do a few blog posts dedicated to a certain race but this is just a post which will talk about certain events that have happened and trying to predict the future, so stay with me and I’ll enjoy any messages on our Twitter account @AntepostRacing with your thoughts, whether it’s positive or negative about the blog.
So we have just had a delightful 3 day meeting at Cheltenham for the Open where we had the Betvictor Gold Cup (The old Paddy Power) and we were able to see numerous different horses making their first start of the season. It was a great meeting and informative, although we are still waiting to see a number of bumper horses from last year in the UK and across the Irish sea. Hopefully with the weather changing now and we are getting rain, we will see them come out quickly. I am going to be doing different sections in this new series, talking about the different races that will be at the festival, it may be a long enough read but stick with me and I hope you enjoy, so lets go:
It’ll be great to hear the road of the Cheltenham crowd in March when the Supreme Novices kicks off the festival but before all that, we need to try and find the winner of the Supreme and going by the betting we may of already. Moon Racer, winner of the Champion Bumper in 2015 has already been seen twice this season over hurdles facing another Champion Bumper winner in Ballyandy on both occasions, and on both occasions 1st place has gone to Moon Racer. I have to say that Moon Racer was very impressive in his win at the Open meeting where he shown his excellent turn of foot to deadly effect in a very messy race. He will be likely to be top of the tree due to his Cheltenham form and the fact that he’s an ex Champion Bumper winner but I’d probably hold off on my bets for the moment due to his age and the fact that we haven’t seen anything else really on the racecourse yet, he’s an obvious candidate for the shortlist though as he has size, scope and a great turn of foot and the ability to travel well. Ballyandy is the one who I view more as a long term project for me for Cheltenham but I will move onto him in the Neptune section as he’s a horse I view as a real candidate for that race. Looking for anything else in the Supreme market is like looking for a needle in a haystack with not many novice hurdlers being seen out on the racecourse yet. Horses to keep an eye on include Jenkins who I have already had a few quid on each way at 25/1 a couple of months ago, he looks a horse with gears and is highly rated by connections. Senewalk is an obvious talking horse and priced terribly for a horse who has never seen a UK racecourse but that is due to connections. Melon, Chateau Conti and Lucky Pass probably are worth keeping an eye on for the Mullins camp but he has other horses too, although ones I have my eye on are probably stayers.
The Neptune and Albert Bartlett looks the one that will probably contain all the best bumper horses this year with Ballyandy, Invitation Only, Battleford, Barcadys, Castello Sforza all high up in the betting for the Neptune. Starting with Ballyandy who I really fancy to be a leading contender for the Neptune this year, he won the Champion Bumper last season and he couldn’t of been more impressive. Caught in pockets throughout the race, he stormed up the hill to win it by a nose from the gutsy Battleford. Due to his connections, he will be compared to The New One and while he might not have the speed to match TNO, he strikes me as a horse who will probably follow the same path as the New One and run in the Neptune. Bound to gain more experience through the season, he probably doesn’t have the gears to win the Supreme but he will suit the distance and shape of the race in the Neptune and I expect him to be a key player there, 14/1 is fair and he will be my first bet to add for the antepost portfolio for the festival. We are waiting for a few others to pop up and they’ll always be a few as per but the ones on my shortlist to add to Ballyandy is Invitation Only, who has looked a very good animal since his point to point days, I have already had a few quid on the any race market with William Hill at 10/1, he is currently 8/1 now and that may be worth taking if you like him but the price has gone and I’d like to see more of him first. He does look a stayer and can go at a good gallop as shown in his bumper victories. Battleford and Barcadys are 2 obvious horses from bumpers last season as they mixed it in all 3 championship bumpers. Barcadys is the probably the one with more toe and is due to start off at 2 miles, so he could be a Supreme or Neptune type and he stayed on well up the hill after being outpaced at the festival whereas Battleford is a likely stayer and may well end up in the Albert Bartlett, looking like a stayer in his bumper appearances and being an ex point to point horse too.
Possibly looking like a hot race this season with a number of stayers I have my eye on so far. Willie Mullins may hold all the aces in the pack with horses I’ve already mentioned in Battleford, Barcadys and Invitation Only, whilst Gordon Elliott won’t be far behind with Blow by Blow and Death Duty. It’s hard to make a prediction of what goes where and I won’t bother doing that yet but the 3 that interest me for this is Battleford, Blow by Blow and Death Duty. Blow by Blow looked top notch and the form looks strong with his win at Punchestown and I expect him to be an Albert Bartlett horse who won’t need soft ground as shown in Ireland, whereas his stablemate Death Duty who looks a horse with plenty of ability may need soft ground to be at his best. It’s a nice dilemma to have for what goes where with Gigginstown with these 2. Worth keeping your money in your pocket for this race although if I was pushed for a bet it would be Blow by Blow at 16/1 which is fair.
I guess when you think of the Arkle this year then there will be only one horse to think of with a couple more thrown in too. The main one and I guess the race revolves around this fella and that’s Altior. I wrote this lad off last season, just goes to show that I do chat garbage most of the time but even so, I thought he was one to go against. When I was at Chepstow last season in the October meeting, I didn’t think in March I’d be seeing the Supreme winner but I was wrong. He absolutely stormed up that hill and took care of Min easily. Yet to be seen over fences this season, he is penciled in for a date at Kempton next week and I have taken the 7/2 about him in the last few days when Skybet boosted him on the day of Nicky Henderson’s stable tour in the Racing Post EDIT: He ran really well at Kempton and looked a natural and has now shortened to 2/1 . I have also taken the 8/1 about the Supreme runner up Min too and I think I should be in comfortable position in March as it looks between the pair. Both have got stronger over the summer and both are expected by their connections to fly the flag high for their stable in the 2 mile division. Identity Thief is another one to keep in mind and was impressive in his first outing over fences a few weeks ago and while he came up short in the Champion Hurdle, he is expected to be a different force over fences and is another each way proposition. Others to keep in mimd are Charbel who ran outstandingly from the front in the Supreme and looked impressive on his debut, he could be a name to be reckoned with over 2 miles in my opinion although may not have the class as the front 2 in the market and another obvious candidate is Yorkhill, however I would view the JLT as the race for him and Buveur D’Air expected to step up in trip and you would think Henderson would keep him apart from Altior, more of those 2 in a minute. I have taken a risk backing 2 horses who haven’t jumped a fence in public but I feel I will place myself in a different position come March.
Just like the Arkle, the JLT revolves around one horse for me and that is the exceptional Yorkhill. I absolutely love this horse, he not only has the size and scope of a National Hunt horse but he has the gears and ability to win top races. His Neptune win beating Yanworth, who is absolutely top class too, reads exceptionally and he won that fair and square for me. 13/2 with Betway is very tempting considering my own opinion is that he will go over fences but I guess it’s a risk you don’t really want to take in November considering he hasn’t been confirmed to go over fences. Judging by what Willie has over hurdles and especially for the 2 mile division, he doesn’t strike me as a horse who’ll be going for the World Hurdle due to his keenness and I expect him to be over fences this season. Ruby Walsh made a comment about him winning the Arkle with his mouth open but I’d be surprised if he went for the Arkle considering they view Min as an out and out 2 miler whereas Yorkhill has the stamina on his breeding side and has won over the 2 and half mile trip already. Definitely one to get involved with when confirmed to make his chasing bow and seen in action. Buveur D’Air, Diamond King and O O Seven make up the shortlist for now with a few more of interest in the early season as always. Diamond King is a lovely horse with a lot of class and the way he travelled and jumped in the Coral Cup proved he has the class for graded races although is exceptionally short mainly due to connections of course. O O Seven was impressive on his first outing too at the Open meeting and he strikes me as a horse who will improve and improve over fences given his trainer who brings horses like him on slowly in their younger years, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was a single figure price come March in this race with the same going for his stablemate Buveur D’Air who was confirmed for fences by his trainer earlier in the week but hasn’t been seen as of yet, I would be really interested in him at 14/1 though and with Altior confirmed to follow the 2 mile division this season, I think it may be worth having a small flutter on this fella for the JLT. More on others to come.
Stayers (RSA and National Hunt chase)
Given the market is pretty weak in the National Hunt chase market now with plenty of question marks around what race those stayers go, I’ve combined the RSA with the 4 miler in this section. Currently we’ve got a solid favourite at the top of the market already and I have taken double figures about Alpha Des Obeaux for the RSA already, however looking at Oddschecker currently he is only 7/1 with that going as we speak. Likely to run at Punchestown this weekend in the Florida Pearl, he strikes me as the RSA winner in waiting already. The form with Thistlecrack where he ran a cracker to run him fairly close in the World Hurdle is the strongest form on offer and 3 miles around Cheltenham will be straight up his street. The only problem is the price right now and it will be worth holding off any bets for now. One thing I read on Twitter from someone is that he is taking the same preparation for the RSA as another Mouse Morris horse in First Lieutenant (Who finished 2nd to Bobs Worth in the RSA in 2012) and that looks like it’s true with ADO getting in his practice in the first half of the season with the customary 2 month break from Christmas that Mouse Morris seems to love, he is a solid favourite for me right now. With Thistlecrack swerving the novice route after Christmas, you are looking at horses like Bellshill and Aux Ptit Soins as household names you would recognise really. I’d definitely be interested in Bellshill who looked top notch last season before fading and then running really well over his step up in trip to 3 miles at Aintree and Punchestown. He appreciated 3 miles on both those days and the way he travels and picks up in those races suggests to me that I wouldn’t give up on him despite 2 bad runs at Cheltenham over inadequate trips. Talking of horses who you shouldn’t give up on then Aux Ptit Soins is definitely one. In need of the race at Exeter, as always said by his trainer Paul Nicholls, he jumped ok throughout with a couple of dodgy moments but he will improve with his racing and will only get better, 25/1 is fair considering he probably wants 3 miles now really and improvement is definite with his one and he is 14/1 with any race at the festival and I honestly think that is too big right now I think. While you are struggling to think what will go the RSA and what will go the 4 miler, I suggest not giving up on a horse I love in Champers On Ice. Chasing was always his game and while he may not have the class of some others, he gives 100% each time on any ground and ran an outstanding 3rd in the Albert Bartlett, he is the type to get better with his fences and has a big chase in graded action in the near future, unsure over whether he will go the 4 miler or RSA at this time mind. Paul Nicholls could possibly have one to throw into the ring with Politilogue who was very impressive at Haydock a few days ago and it is interesting that Nicholls couldn’t split him and APS in his stable tour this season over fences, he is worth keeping an eye on although he may struggle on good ground as he bombed out in the Coral Cup looking like he found things too quick for him on that day although that could be down to experience in a big field more then anything, he is 16/1 for any race with William Hill and you can back him each way. Another empty market right now except for the solid favourite.
Faugheen or Annie Power to win it but not sure who goes for it, my opinion would be that they’ll let Annie Power take her chance again as shes reigning champion and Willie tends to favour her over most horses just like he did with Hurricane Fly. Sceau Royal is the improving Old Guard of last year and there isn’t much else knocking around.
Douvan wins. Fox Norton will probably get in the places as he looks like he’s improved hugely, and you cannot ignore a horse who can jump and travel at pace. He will also go into the race with more confidence rather then thrown out the back hoping to pick up a penny or 2 like he was in the Arkle. Sizing John would interest me as an each way alternative given he always runs his race and didn’t seem to get home in the 2m4 race at Aintree when stepped up in trip, however that could of been one race too many and his connections don’t seem too keen to take on Douvan again going by his new trainer Jessie Harrington’s stable tour in the RP. However, if they were hoping to go prize hunting, he could easily run a 2nd or 3rd in the Champion Chase for a good pot, if they feel he doesn’t stay the Ryanair trip. Going by breeding, he would definitely stay but while he doesn’t have the speed to win a QMCC, he showed he sticks on gamely enough to compete in the races that Douvan doesn’t. Question marks remain over the rest.
A bit of a minefield however Black Hercules takes his place up the top of the betting and rightly so, I think he’s the most likely winner and I think he’ll be campaigned over the middle distances trips this season before a possible step up to the Gold Cup trip next season. I always viewed him as a Gold Cup horse and was baffled when he went to the JLT last season but there’s a reason why I don’t train horses and Willie does and going by his stable tour, Black Hercules will be campaigned at the middle distance or shorter. 7/1 is fair for him although it’s too early to take the risk. Vroum Vroum Mag is likely to go the Mares again in my opinion and I’d prefer to see her take on the geldings over fences before making an opinion on her over fences and there probably is value to be had with Gods Own, Sizing John, Zabana (Likely to go over 3 miles) and maybe even Bristol De Mai making up the rest of the shortlist but another one too early to judge with not many trainers being too intent on aiming their horse for the Ryanair chase.
With Thistlecrack currently chasing, it leaves a wide open division for the World Hurdle. Nichols Canyon put his claims in at the weekend by winning the Morgiana hurdle at Punchestown, however I’m not keen on him. Unsure whether he will stay the 3 mile trip and I’m not convinced by on him good ground given his running style, I wouldn’t be backing him at single figure prices right now. His stablemate Shaneshill interests me more given he looks a confirmed stayer from his last 4 runs last season where he finished 2nd in the RSA, 2nd in the Aintree stayers hurdle, looking like winning in the 3 mile hurdle at Punchestown and then just missing out in America over 3 miles too. He started with a staying on 3rd with a suspect ride from Ruby Walsh that day. He could easily be geared up for a shot at the World Hurdle given that he performed so well over hurdles after having an indifferent start over chasing where he never looked comfortable and I would not be surprised to see him go close in the big 3 mile hurdles this season, 20/1 is fair although it seems Nichols Canyon is the number 1 hope for Mullins and Wylie. Another one for the shortlist is the exciting Yanworth too. Winner of the Ascot hurdle at the weekend, he only looked like getting into gear in the closing stages against the tough and gutsy Lil Rockerfeller. He strikes me as a horse who will only improve and improve and his 2nd to Yorkhill reads well. The only thing that would put me off with this horse is that he looks a suspect stayer. Keen at the weekend, he isn’t really bred to do the World Hurdle trip but his performance on the stiff new course at Cheltenham on trials day last year over 2m5 still sticks in my mind and stayed on well in the Neptune and at Ascot. I have had a few quid on him at 12’s and 10’s however I’d say he is a little short now at 8/1 currently. We will see if he does stay the trip in December at Ascot, however I love this horse and he is very, very exciting. Other possibles at Jezki who needs to show he retains his ability and we will see more of him soon enough and Ballyoptic who looked beat at Wetherby before staying on and falling when in contention, he could still have a shout especially if he performs in the Long Distance hurdle at Newbury tomorrow. He is a little keen too and if he learns to settle, he will no doubt be a better horse for the World Hurdle.
Another puzzling race given Thistlecrack is disgustingly short given he has only run twice in small field novice chases so far, but based on ability he is entitled to be so short given how much class he has, I wouldn’t even be tempted to back him at the current price though. His stablemate and top class stayer Cue Card is next in the betting at 6’s and that isn’t a price I’d want to take right now either, for all his class and ability, the statistics aren’t great for this 11 year old, I just wonder how much he has left to give and are there any improvers to make it a race with him? I would say not really at the moment, and that’s why he is priced as the next best in the betting. His win in the Betfair Chase was superb and he looked like he has retained all his ability from last season, for me I never thought he wouldn’t retain his ability, but I just wonder if he will still be going as strong in March. Not many ageing horses like Cue Card win a race like the Gold Cup at 11 and it only seems to be freak of nature horses like Sprinter Sacre and Moscow Flyer but one thing is for certain, Cue Card is as good as those horses and is a freak of nature. Coneygree seemed to retain all his enthusiasm at Haydock but would be no betting opportunity given he needs genuine soft ground and Djakadam despite being only young would be a negative to win it given he has already been beaten in 2 Gold Cup’s already, despite that, he does have serious place claims again given his age and the way he jumps and stays so well, and it is also worth noting that a horse who came into the festival on a fall, which happened to Djakadam last year, aren’t going in with the greatest preparation according to the stats. The only horse that has interested me and I took 25’s a few weeks ago before his win at Down Royal is Valseur Lido, I think the extra 2 furlongs will only benefit this horse and given he’s a fairly decent jumper (most of the time) and seems to handle most grounds, he strikes me as the biggest improver in the field and Willie has often said that this horse is a dour stayer and I’d have to agree. He stayed on well in the Ryanair last season against Vautour and that caught my eye as there was a certain horse called Don Cossack who stayed on stoutly up that hill in the Ryanair before going on to win the Gold Cup the following season. 12’s is a little short at the moment for me but he would strike me as the obvious big improver for the trip right now. Don Cossack would have to be some horse to win the Gold Cup with one run, if he gets to run this season, and that would be a huge negative to me considering the vibes aren’t the greatest that he will even make the racecourse again. You are scraping the barrel for big priced horses and you’d need it to be soft ground for horses like Minella Rocco, Un Temps Pour Tout and such like to take into consideration at big prices.
Whilst it is a long way away to be getting involved in the handicaps, there are a couple of other races to keep an eye on. The cross country is the one I want to keep having a few quid on and the obvious winner to me already at this early stage is Josie’s Orders. Unlucky not to win last season when given too much to do, he is priced short at 3/1 but I can’t see what beats it last season and although Nina Carberry isn’t around this season, Josies Orders will have a great deputy to take the ride on him in Jamie Codd over the famous Cross Country fences and despite it being a long way to March, given that he has time on his side only being a fairly young horse for the Cross Country sphere I fully expect him to win this race properly (he was awarded it after Any Currency was disqualified a few weeks ago) and 3/1 with William Hill is worth taking before he shortens even more. I’ll see you next month.
Ballyandy 2pts e/w – Neptune – 14/1 (General)
Buveur D’Air 0.5pt e/w – JLT – 14/1 (General)
Josies Orders 2pts win – Cross Country – 3/1 (William Hill and Betstars)
Aux Ptit Soins to win any race at the Cheltenham festival – 1pt e/w – 14/1 (William Hill)