Any of our subscribers will know just how much we love to target the Cheltenham Festival. While it’s wise to save most of your ammunition for the week itself, it’s also good fun to have a few ante-post dabbles. We will run an occasional series to that end starting today.
We love a dash at the handicaps but those markets are very much for the new year. Similarly, the novice events can be hard to call this early without any inside knowledge. They are better assessed nearer the time and with more form to go on.
That leaves the key championship events where form is more well know and we can take a good punt now broadly knowing the likely contenders.
There are two big events that don’t make our first Yankee cut. The Gold Cup itself looks a solid market with last year’s principals joined by the leading staying novices. This looks a puzzle better solved nearer the time.
The Champion Chase doesn’t make the cut due to fundamental value issues. We are happy to take on favourite Chacun Pour Soir given his injury strewn career and no festival form, and even take on the legend Altior, who is 10 going on 11 and coming back from a setback.
The one we like is the up and coming Greaneteen. He was a good fourth in the handicap in March despite his inexperience, and his battling return to win at Exeter suggested so much more in a strongly run race. The fundamental value issue is that he is a best priced 20/1 and yet runs next in the Tingle Creek at Sandown potentially against Altior for which he is 5/1. Should he win there then he would probably contract to around say 5/1 for Cheltenham. While that may make 20s look big, backing him for Sandown and then reinvesting the winning could return more like 33/1 and seems the wiser choice. This is often the case when an ante-post fancy is facing an imminent test of credentials – back them in the test, and then reinvest.
So instead our Yankee starts with the Champion Hurdle. We aren’t big fans of 4yo form in older class and Goshen looks pretty short on that score. Defending champ Epatante looks much more likely to be the leading home contender and is a fair price. The Irish challenge was made no clearer by a messy Morgiana Hurdle, but the first two there remain the key horses.
Abacadabras has bags of speed, and with the festival a key week later than recent years could get better ground to show that speed. He has a big chance but at a similar price, SAINT ROI (top price 8/1) looks the stronger pick. He was deeply impressive winning the County Hurdle and wasn’t best suited by Punchestown. He may still find Abacadabras’s speed a handful in forthcoming Leopardstown events, but he devours the Cheltenham hill and will finish best of all on the day in that stiffer test. He can kick us off.
The Ryanair Chase often has an interesting ante post look as so many of the contenders have preferable alternative targets. That looks the case again, with even defending champ Min potentially a Champion Chase candidate should Chacun again fail to appear. The race is vulnerable to up and comers and we like IMPERIAL AURA (top price 16/1), who did us a favour in the novice handicap last year. His reappearance win at Carlisle was impressive and although he promises to stay well in time, the Bailey yard have Vinndication in the top staying races and nominated 2m4f targets next for Imperial. The same owner’s Imperial Commander took the Ryanair as a second season chaser before going for Gold glory, and it would be no surprise if a similar campaign was in mind for this horse. He looks an excellent price for a race that typically thins out dramatically.
The Stayers Hurdle has a wide open look after the shock eclipse in last year’s race of 2019 winner Paisley Park. He remains favourite to bounce back but now has something to prove. We prefer an old favourite who has nothing to prove. SIRE DU BERLAIS (top price 10/1), has won the last two runnings of the Pertemps final over the same course and distance carrying big weights. On both occasions he was faster than the Stayers winner later on the same card. He has to go the graded route now and battled well to win a nice little race over an inadequate 2m4f on his return. There is room at the top here and this solid battler can rise to the challenge.
Testing the bookies on virgin ground can often lead to value. The inaugural Mares Chase is priced up featuring loads of names that won’t be there. If Benie Des Dieux runs she could be a short price, but Willie may want to settle a score with Honeysuckle over hurdles and besides has the favourite here in Salsaretta. The standard is not high here, and even handicap regular Happy Diva has a good chance on ratings.
But Gordon Elliott must have been overjoyed to see this race framed as it perfectly suits his mare SHATTERED LOVE (best price 16/1). She is a festival winner in the 2018 Marsh as a novice over this course and distance. She faded in the 2019 Gold Cup having run well for a long way, and did ok in this year’s Ryanair having not entered the race in great form. She sauntered to a win over one of Willie’s at Clonmel last week, and this drop in class to Mares events may be just what she needs. She is a massive price.
Saint Roi (Champion Hurdle)
Imperial Aura (Ryanair Chase)
Sire Du Berlais (Stayers Hurdle)
Shattered Love (Mares Chase)
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