The pitter patter of Cheltenham Festival feet can be heard some 10 weeks away, which means it’s time to have a low risk ante-post wager on the five championship races with Paddy Power.
When offered non-runner, no bet the natural reaction is to back something that has any of the aforementioned races as a definitive destination, but in fact the opposite betting theory should be followed.
So, go out on a limb and have an investment on a charge unlikely to run in any of the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers Hurdle, Ryanair Chase or Gold Cup with the refund tag attached.
If your selection makes it to the starting line you will inevitably have beaten the odds by some way and can afford a second saver bet. If it doesn’t, then hey presto you will get your hard earned returned.
Top of my ante-post pile has to be Top Notch for the Ryanair Chase, currently a 12/1 shot. Lightly raced in the last two years with only nine starts under his belt, this hugely talented eight-year-old will surely start at half those odds if lining up for this newest of the Championship races.
Our racing memories are sometimes akin to that of a goldfish, but it was as recently as 2017 that this pocket rocket made Yorkhill pull out all the stops in the JLT, running that then superstar to a length. Winner of three Grade Two events since then, I thought that his third to Paisley Park in the Long Walk Hurdle was the perfect seasonal debut and he has reportedly come out of that race in good form.
Before floundering behind Waiting Patiently at Ascot, he was being primed for the 2018 Ryanair and this bonny jumper is likely to go straight to Cheltenham in a race with little strength in depth this season.
The Magners Gold Cup is just chock full of imponderables. Might Bite has now gone physically, on top of being a mental screw. Presenting Percy has been kept wrapped in a large cotton wool blanket by his eccentric handler, while the seemingly bomb proof Native River can surely only handle a limited number of intense battles before he hits the end wall.
Clans Des Obeaux is a better horse going right-handed as half admitted by his shrewd handler, Kemboy isn’t good enough having won a three-furlong sprint at Leopardstown, Road To Respect should run in the Ryanair – but his belligerent owners can’t see that. Thistlecrack has to prove he stays three and a quarter miles around Cheltenham, Al Boum Photo seemingly has more than a chink or three in his character and Bristol de Mai pines for Haydock Park like no other.
Gosh, this is an easy game once you sort the wheat from the chaff. That leaves me staring straight down the gun barrel at last year’s third Anibale Fly.
Okay let’s get this straight once and for all, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is a stayers contest, an out and out slugfest where they tend to race from a fair way out, hence Native River was able to break the heart and soul of Might Bite last year.
That enabled the ‘Fly’ to pick up the pieces and a similar scenario occurred in 2017, when Minella Rocco came from miles off the pace to hit the frame. Tony Martin’s charge followed up his magnificent placed effort by hitting the frame in the Grand National.
He jumps, stays and is as game as any horse in training and if ridden in the same manner I fancy he will hit the frame again at around 50/1 or bigger. What would you rather do, bet on Presenting ‘absent’ Percy at 5/1 or get a bigger price about Anibale Fly to make the three; you do the math!
Buveur D’Air is essentially a stayer, but a damn good one and found the two miles of the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton too sharp. As the betting indicates he is the most likely winner of a horrible division in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle, but that means that he makes the market for the rest of the entry.
Melon is probably a solid option to hit the frame again and stable mates Sharjah and Laurina will quite rightly have their supporters, and the value shot Bedrock is now U.S bound.
So with the non-runner, no bet play with us the obvious call has to be Apple’s Jade. I reckon she has more than enough toe for this trip and it just smacks of a lack of ambition if connections keep her to the mare’s outlet.
I can see her just about making all if she lines up for the hurdling crown. Her jumping is slick and efficient and at the 5/1 she looks an each-way play to nothing if taking in this first championship race of the week and if not, you get your money back!
The Champion Chase looks a nightmare set-up with the all-conquering Altior about to stamp his name indelibly into the NH Hall of Fame. On good ground Sceau Royal is the non-runner, no bet investment at around 14/1, but to be honest I can take or leave him.
But the Stayers Hurdle is a whole different ball game. It’s 5/1 the field, it is probably 2/1 about the holder and ante-post favourite Penhill lining up again!
With her mares allowance I would fancy the aforementioned Apple’s Jade to turn over the current champ, but I feel the Champion Hurdle, normally goes to a stayer, would suit her better.
Paisley Park is the most progressive stayer outside of the mare for this contest, but he has flopped at the track before which makes Black Op a perfect fit for the non-runner, no bet offering.
This young horse is all class as he showed when landing the Mersey Novices Hurdle at the Aintree Festival last season on the back of running Samcro to two and three quarter lengths in the Ballymore at Cheltenham.
So far in his brief chasing career he has looked clumsy at his obstacles and it is testament to his top-class engine that he made six niggling mistakes and one major one yet still managed to run a close up third in the Dipper Novices Hurdle.
He simply doesn’t seem to make the right shape through the air and in such a weak division it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world were Tom George revert him to hurdles.
If he does line-up for the Stayers’ crown would he really start at his current odds available of 16/1, I doubt it.
* All odds correct at time of posting.