Last year’s opening day of the Cheltenham Festival was heaven sent for punters with three market leaders obliging and the biggest priced winner being the well backed 9/1 shot Summerville Boy in the opening Supreme Novices Hurdle.
Yet slowly, but surely, the layers turned it around with eight double-figure priced winners from Wednesday onwards, four of those coming on Gold Cup day.
And with the weather yet to decide on how it will behave next week, there is once again the potential for outsiders to wreak havoc. So the value view is once again worth huge consideration throughout the four days.
It looks like Glen Forsa is going to be all the rage in the Arkle Chase on day one with his assured jumping a huge asset among his fellow novices. However, if the ground becomes genuinely soft, then an each-way play on last year’s Supreme Novices Hurdle runner-up KALASHNIKOV could pay dividends.
I simply can’t understand why Amy Murphy has run her pride and joy at Sandown and Kempton on his last two starts when it is quite clear that he is a different animal going left-handed. Soft ground would be a huge bonus for this son of Kalanisi and although he is not a double figure price, the 8/1 available now could crumble substantially if the day one going description turns to soft.
Ok, so now onto some proper outsiders worth a second look. At the top of my ‘surprise’ tree is BEWARE THE BEAR at 16/1 in the Ultima Handicap Chase – the race that precedes the Arkle Chase on Tuesday.
A former winner of the Eider Chase, Nicky Henderson’s charge is all about stamina and more stamina, but showed that he is not short of a little speed when winning over 3m 2f at the track at the back end of 2018 on good to soft ground.
That run came off the back of a staying on fourth in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, but this stiffer track seems to suit him so much better. Go back and look at this race last year when this lightly raced nine-year-old came from out of the clouds to rocket up the hill and finish fourth off a rating of 150.
Set to race off only a 1lb higher mark here, granted an end-to-end gallop and appreciable give in the turf, I think he looks nailed on to pick up the pieces in the closing stages and at the very least hit the frame. It is worth remembering that this will only be his 11th start over fences and as such a modicum of improvement could still be in his locker.
All eyes have been on the mares Apple’s Jade and Laurina in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday and with their generous weight allowance that is quite understandable, but I really fancy a huge run from 16/1 shot ESPOIR D’ALLEN.
Gavin Cromwell’s charge has made giant strides on each of his three starts this season and hasn’t finished yet. All ground comes alike to this son of Voix Du Nord and should he take another step forward in the region of 7lbs he has more than frame possibilities.
The Coral Cup on Wednesday (2.50pm) is made for outsiders and LIL ROCKERFELLA (25/1) looks the pick of the double-figure prices.
This grand dual purpose charge has no chance of landing the Stayers’ Hurdle and as such, off a mark of 152, looks very attractively weighted to run a huge race here. I have always been of the opinion that a stiff 3m is too far for this eight-year-old, but I can see him being in the van throughout in the 2m5f event and granted a soft surface the selection could be hard to shift from the first five on the long uphill run to the line.
Let’s jump forward to Thursday and the other major handicap hurdle during the festival, the Pertemps Final. For us value seeks, both Sire Du Berlais and Samburu Shujaa make the market at 11/2 and 7/1 respectively and it could be that both stayers are well ahead of their current marks.
That comment could also apply to 12/1 shot Aaron Lad.
Already a course and distance winner, the lightly raced eight-year-old (only his 15th start under rules) has relished the step up in trip this year and trounced the smart Keeper Hill at the Prestbury Park track.
The handicapper has taken revenge by bumping him up 9lbs in the weights, but I think he hasn’t finished improving yet and I expect him to go off at a single figure price for this fiercely competitive event.
And finally, grab a nice slice of the 16/1 available on CH’TIBELLO in the County Hurdle on Friday (2.10pm) before the value thieves beat you to it. Dan Skelton’s charge was far from disgraced in last year’s Champion Hurdle and now finds himself set to run off a mark of just 146 in this two-mile cavalry charge.
His half a length second to Midnight Shadow at Aintree in December looks really solid form in the context of this event. If wind surgery has brought him forward again he could be absolutely chucked in at the weights.