RICH RICCI AND WILLIE MULLINS, PAUL NICHOLLS, THE LEGENDARY JP, THE IRISH, CLEEVE HILL, the Racing Olympics and the winning most trainer of Cheltenham Festival winners, Nicky Henderson. Who could ask for more than Cheltenham in March. Excited yet? The four days in March (this year 1417) encapsulate everything that is good about National Hunt racing and for me the nerve ends are already tingling. But please bear in mind that in order to speculate at this early stage with six weeks still to go, the pros and cons of antepost selections come into play as numerous things can still happen – wrong ground, failure to turn up and worst of all, your selection running in a different race…BUT weighed against this is an antepost voucher at three to four times the likely starting price on the day. So here are my selections.
Highlight of Tuesday is the Champion Hurdle and Willie Mullins and major owner, Rich Ricci, have dominated in recent years winning the last two Champion Hurdles with Faugheen and Annie Power. They are both currently at the head of market despite both not having run this season. At time of writing Faugheen ran in the Irish Champion Hurdle last weekend, but in any event I think legendary trainer Nicky Henderson holds a tremendous hand with Michael Buckley’s BRAIN POWER and at current odds of 14/1 he is a confident choice. In fact I think the main danger to Brain Power is in Gigginstown’s PETIT MOUCHAIR at around 7/1. Nicky Henderson could easily have had two winners prior to the Champion Hurdle as Altior lines up as even money favourite for the Arkle (too restrictive a price for me to tip up) but the opening race of the Festival, is the Supreme Novices TUESDAY WEDNESDAY THURSDAY THE SUPERBOWL FRIDAY Hurdle and I believe he might already be in the winners’ enclosure with CHARLI PARCS at 12/1 for one of his principle owners, JP McManus. A note of caution: Charli Parcs is also being aimed at the Triumph Hurdle, a race for Juveniles on the Friday, but I have a sneaking suspicion that legendary gambler JP McManus will go for the more prestigious option. And at odds of 12/1, I would certainly advise an interest.
Highlight of Wednesday is the Queen Mother Champion Chase but this is not a betting proposition. I notice that Antior has an entry for the Champions’ Chase rather than the Arkle on the Tuesday, but in any event he will come up against Douvan and no horse can stand up to him. My next bet though is on the opening race of Wednesday’s card, the Neptune Novices Hurdle which is grade one for novices over 2.5 miles that are traditionally between Champion Hurdle class and the three miles of the Stayers Hurdle in their next year of campaigning. So you are looking for a horse with speed but also one of stamina. One that fits the bill is Harry Fry’s NEON WOLF. You couldn’t have failed to be impressed by his win at Haydock a couple of weeks ago and at odds of 8/1 he represents excellent value.
The other major race on the Wednesday is the RSA Chase (effectively the Gold Cup for Novices) and this race constantly brings up surprise results. With the exception of Denman winning the RSA prior to Gold Cup glory, it takes a lot out of a Novice. This year, Bellshill tops the market at around 4/1 for Willie Mullins, but I like the chances of another Irish horse, OUR DUKE who outstayed and outbattled some decent opposition in the Lexus Chase over Christmas. Ideally he would prefer the going with soft in the description which sometimes doesn’t happen but I think the attritional nature of the race will more than compensate. At 10/1 he is a confident selection.
The two Championship races on Thursdsay are the Stayers Hurdle, latterly sponsored by Ladbrokes but this year by Sun Bets and the Ryanair Chase over 2.5 miles. Firstly the Ryanair, another Grade One. I am especially cautious at this stage because it invariably cuts up, and this year is a prime example. Cue Card, whose connections have now declared him for the Gold Cup, is currently 3/1 favourite with a run and if you have any spare cash then take the 3/1 now but only with Bet 365 who are offering non runner no bet. My selection though is again another Henderson horse in JOSSES HILL at a general 10/1. This horse has certainly returned to its halcyon days as a juvenile and although the Ryanair will be a very competitive race I think it has a reasonable chance of success. Again if you want the insurance of non runner no bet then go to Bet 365, who are offering 8/1 but you pays your money, you takes your choice. The highlight of Thursday though is the Stayers Hurdle. I think we have a false favourite in Unowhatimeanharry at 5/2. The horse has done nothing wrong I grant you, but I feel the flat spot it generally hits won’t be so forgiving at Cheltenham and I am more than happy to lay the horse for considerable money. My selection is JEZKI at around 7/1. The horse was good enough to win a Champion Hurdle in its pomp
and now has returned after one year off. Yes, you have to take the three miles on trust but Jessie Harrington is a master of knowing her trade and I think Jezki holds every chance. The horse is also owned, as is the favourite, by JP McManus but JP often runs two, three, four horses in the same race so I feel Jezki will line up. At a big price I would also suggest having an interest on AGRAPART at 33/1 for a small stake.
And so to the highlight of the week, The Cheltenham Gold Cup. Can the hot pot of Thistlecrack be beaten? Anybody who has ante post vouchers of 10/1 from last autumn has certainly a great bet and last weekend, Thistlecrack ran in the Cotswold Chase to get acclimatised to Cheltenham, so you need to judge for yourselves if it was impressive as this column and this paper has been printed prior to last Saturday. My own belief is that Thistlecrack is the likely winner but even money represents no value and even if it was impressive and did win last weekend I feel that on the day you will probably still get around 13/8. However, forget the hype and turn your mind back to last year. Would Cue Card have won the Gold Cup? He fell when cruising and in my eyes would have lifted the crown
for Colin Tizzard last year. The owner wants another crack at the race and I think that in a race where both Thistlecrack and Bristol De Mai will set out at their own pace at the head of the field, they may be vulnerable to a stalking horse and that horse is unquestionably CUE CARD. Bet 365 with non runner no bet are going 7/1 but as of Wednesday, 25th January Hill’s, Ladbrokes and Corals were offering 12/1. I leave you to decide
on where you go to place a bet.
As tipped up in October when the New England Patriots were 9/2 for the Superbowl, next weekend’s final between the Pats and the Falcons will be a great spectacle. For me it’s a greater spectacle because I have New England at 9/2. I hope you followed
my advice and I hope I am not jinxing their chances by crowing now but I feel that however good Matt Ryan is, Tom Brady is Tom Brady. Need I say any more? Until next time, good punting.