Cheltenham Countdown: Not to be sniffed at…

With Cheltenham only four weeks away and the racing world at a literal fever pitch with the threat of equine flu, let’s take a look at some possible ante post opportunities.

We know that an equine flu positive in Donald McCain’s yard, and latterly Simon Crisford’s have generated a countrywide short term response, but also an enforced two week minimum shutdown of those specific yards. As such all trainers are now in a Russian roulette position where one sneeze in the run up to Cheltenham could scupper their chances.

With Ireland yet to be hit, it seems sensible to look at their challengers particularly against overly short English favourites. So where better to start than with the epitome of this strategy…

Min, (Champion Chase), 8/1 (Hills, Betfair)

There is no doubt Altior is the best horse in training right now, and two of his festival wins have come at a 7l margin over Min. That said, in the Supreme, the likes of Buveur D’Air were behind, and in last year’s running of this race there was over 10l back to the rest. So there is a case for Min being the second best horse in training. Indeed last year he looked to have Altior in trouble until the champ’s customary relentless climb of the hill. With Altior’s troublingly wayward antics last time at Ascot there is a genuine case for value with Min regardless. Add in the equine flu uncertainty, and its current bias to UK yards and he looks an irresistible play.  6/1 is available for the slightly more risk averse in the non runner no bet market, and that is equally good value given it insures against mishap/flu for Min and the marginal risk of him heading for the longer Ryanair (increasingly unlikely in our view).

City Island, (Ballymore Hurdle), 12/1 (Ladbrokes, Coral)

The Ballymore features two warm favourites in the Henderson-trained Champ, and Elliott’s Battleoverdoyen. On form the English runner has much the better credentials. That said he still has it to prove and he looks too short especially in the face of flu risk. Elliott’s horse also looks short, he looks a real chasing type and this could be a year too early for his best. Both Brewin’Upastorm and City Island make appeal against the top two, but given the former comes off the back of a fall and is UK-based, then Ireland’s City Island looks the best bet. Fluent in wins at Galway (over some decent types but subsequently disqualified on trace pharmaceutical grounds), and then last weekend at Naas, he looks a speedy type who will go well if the ground is typically Cheltenham good to soft. Seems certain to run here given he is owned by the sponsors and looks great value full stop, and even better with the flu risk factored in.

Laurina, (Champion Hurdle), 5/1 (Betfair)

This looks a three runner affair on form. Henderson’s Buveur D’Air attempts the hat-trick. Beaten in a Supreme, he was great in this as a 6yo, workmanlike against a poor field last year at 7, and now returns at 8 having suffered a first defeat in three years at the hooves of the likeable but limited Verdana Blue. He is another who looks too short irrespective of the flu angle. Apple’s Jade is the obvious one after a 16l romp in the Irish Champion last time. She is class but there is a niggling doubt about Cheltenham. She lost a Triumph here to Ivanovich Gorbatov – reversing that by nearly 50l three weeks later at Aintree. Although a game winner of the Mares hurdle in 2017, that’s not Champion form, and her defeat in that race last year at 1/2 to some moderate rivals is a further cause for caution even if the stable believe issues with being in season have been resolved. It is worth therefore risking the x-factor with the unknown in Laurina. Also entitled to the generous 7lb mares allowance, she has never been tested at anything like this level, but then neither has she come off the bridle, including scooting home in a weak Festival event last year. Trust Mullins and Walsh, and trust the long held stable vibes that this mare is much more an Annie Power than she is say a Limini or Benie Des Dieux who have had tight jousts with Apple’s Jade at the last two festivals.

Those with an eye for detail will see that all three picks are against short-priced Nicky Henderson favourites. We have nothing against one of the greatest trainers of all time – it’s just market forces that see his good horses so short.  It also makes sense for those who like doubles and trebles, and with a partly flu-based strategy to take a view against one yard which could then pay across multiple picks.

The Countdown Portfolio:

Getaway Trump (Supreme), 16/1

Janika (Ryanair NRNB), 25/1

Indefatigable (Mares Novice), 25/1

Easy Game (Any Race), 14/1

Mall Dini (Any Race), 12/1

Discorama, (Any Race NRNB), 12/1

Min, (Champion Chase), 8/1

City Island, (Ballymore), 12/1

Laurina, (Champion Hurdle), 5/1

Previous articles in series:

Cheltenham Countdown: Three Below The Radar….

Cheltenham Countdown:  Three Irish Martinis…

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