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We’re just six weeks out from the Cheltenham Festival and while you may have it circled in your calendar as a few days in a year where you study form, the wise money is down now.
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The weather has certainly wreaked havoc with the build-up to this year’s Festival, let alone everything else going on, but whether they run the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham, Market Rasen or your aunty Mary’s back garden, the show must go on.
You’ll fancy a few favourites when the time comes, and given many of them won’t be seen again until the third week of March, you’d be foolish not to latch onto the better price available right now. After all, he laughs last. Here are six Festival favourites you should be backing right now.
You know how it is. Everyone loves a shortie immediately after their fancy in the Supreme fails to get up the hill. No sooner will the words “I always said the Supreme was a stamina test and not a sprint” leave thousands of mouths, will piles of cash will fall onto the back of the likely shortest-priced favourite of the entire Festival in SHISHKIN.
Nico de Boinville has rightly stopped short on comparisons to Altior, but it’s the systematic nature of Seven Barrows in how they campaign the type year in, year out that always begs the question. And for my money Shishkin may not be as aesthetically impressive as Altior, but he’s less problematic, has even fewer quirks and he’s more industrious over a fence. The money will come thick and fast as everyone chases a winner at any price, so do like Shishkin and leap into a bit of value early doors.
If, like me, you were delighted EPATANTE was beaten at Kempton because you fancied a bigger price against a Champion Hurdle field with no viable contenders bar the aforementioned, you’ll be doubly delighted to hear the news from Nicky Henderson. Epatante was treated for a back problem in recent weeks, which the crafty trainer has listed as the excuse for the 6-length defeat at the hands of Silver Bullet in the Christmas Hurdle.
That should be music to your ears too as there’s still a bit of uncertainty surrounding her price given the nature of the loss at Kempton, but there isn’t a horse that can compete with her class – especially with half the field holding entries to easier races at the Festival. In six weeks’ time, there’ll clearly only be one horse with the pedigree to shorten considerably and you’re best advised to take the price while you can.
You may scoff at me for throwing in a novice hurdle given how fluid trainers’ thoughts are when it comes to these races at the Festival, but Paul Nicholls has been adamant from the word go that BRAVEMANSGAME goes here and only here – which his sole entry at Cheltenham confirms.
Around him in the betting are the likes of Appreciate It who will absolutely be appreciating it when he’s goes to the Supreme instead of being beaten by the selection here, and the likes of Bob Olinger and Gaillard Du Mesnil.
Henry De Bromhead seems quite content with running the former again before the Ballymore – again in bottomless ground around Ireland – which hardly screams ideal preparation to me. Gaillard Du Mesnil is a significantly bigger threat in my mind, but he’s currently engaged in what should be the most competitive race at the entire Dublin Racing Festival. There won’t be any significant movement there after he finishes halfway down the field as he runs.
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While the owners are keen to see this nine-year-old trot out to defend his Cleeve Hurdle crown, time is very much against them.
I certainly understand chasing both an easier purse and a bit of history – winning this renewal would see PAISLEY PARK match Lady Rebecca’s trio of consecutive Cleeve Hurdle triumphs – the Festival is now six weeks away and you might struggle to land a suitable place in a card at Sandown. If Warwick in a fortnight’s time is the target for the renewal, Emma Lavelle has expressed concerns about the proximity to, what she has reaffirmed is the main target – the Stayers’ at Cheltenham.
There’s a real sense in my mind that less is more for three-milers as they get older and I don’t believe his run in the Cleeve last year was a non-factor when it came to Lisnagar Oscar shocking us all in Thursday’s feature. Paisley Park’s best price is likely to be available to you now, and I’d be steering you in that direction.
I can hear Davy Russell laughing at me as I type this, but Gordon Elliott’s four-year-old is my NAP of the entire Festival and if you track the master trainer’s success in these contests, he tends not to be over-zealous when it comes to running his fancies.
For that reason, and the fact they’ll likely be running in a swamp, you can probably expect ZANAHIYR to go straight to Gloucestershire from here. He doesn’t have to prove anything, having already run three times this season and winning quite cosily in what should read as good contests this time next year. I believe people will be latching onto this son of Nathaniel by the end of what is traditionally a bookies’ day on the Thursday.
In an equine world where multiple entries, alternating ground and mixed messages between owner and trainer could confuse a Harvard Medical School graduate, AL BOUM PHOTO is a punter’s dream. You know full well that he goes to Tramore for a dip before landing at the Gold Cup and probably winning it.
There’s no second-guessing; there’s no will he/won’t he – Willie sends him to the Festival feature with the same prep he’s had going to each of the last two successful steers he’s had and watches British trainers try to flex their muscles by running his rivals into the ground just a few weeks out from the hardest-run race of the entire Festival.
Get in now before every other viable contender ponders another gallop around the UK and results in this loveable nine-year-old halving in price by the off.
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