It’s always the greatest feeling to get off to a winning start at the Festival on the Tuesday and post a profit in one of the first four races. Surprisingly, the Ultima Handicap Chase has been my best friend down through the years having backed the winner in eight of the last 13 years, all bar one ante-post, the exception being Joes Edge in 2007 at huge odds in the run.
Whether it is good ground, good to soft or deeper, the ability to jump (bar Wichita Lineman in 2009) and stay well (Wichita top dog in this category) are the two assets needed in spades.
Getting into that rhythm is so important and last year’s winner Beware The Bear did just that with aplomb, racing wide and out of trouble and jumping from fence to fence.
The weights will be framed later this week for the third race on the Tuesday, but VINNDICATION is bound to be at the head of most pundit’s lists and quite rightly so following his five length dismissal of Regel Encore and Co. in the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot. Almost certain to be near the head of the weights if not top, the 13/2 available with PP looks a really good base bet to go to war with such is the esteem with which Kim Bailey holds the youngster.
So much so, that his veteran trainer feels he could emerge into a Gold Cup horse next season. If he is potential Grade One material then he has to go close here and horses at the top of the weights have a fair record in this ultra-competitive event.
The progressive pair, The Conditional and Simply The Betts are other youngsters feared, but if we get a deluge for the first day and this extended three mile chase is run on genuinely soft ground again then last year’s third LAKE VIEW LAD could well be the each-way value, currently available at 25/1.
That day he predictably got outpaced at the top of the hill, but nothing was finishing better up the final climb and could run off a mark likely to be at least 6lbs lower than last season.
This confirmed out-and-out stayer could be the best ante-post value in the market place.
The opening Supreme Novices Hurdle is more of a conundrum this year because so many plans are up in the air and there are still 86 horses engaged.
Ante-post favourite Shishkin has done all that has been asked of him, but you could readily argue that he is fourth best in form terms having latterly waltzed home in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon. A feature of both of his wins has been his high cruising speed and slick hurdling and he is held in the highest esteem by Nicky Henderson.
With Sporting John almost certain to run in the Ballymore, I suspect there is every chance that Chantry House could run here, the two being in the ownership of J.P. McManus.
But if you are looking for an each-way call here then let me point you in the direction of CAPTAIN GUINNESS a hugely likeable son of Arakan.
Henry De Bromhead’s charge hosed up in his maiden hurdle in December and then stepped up significantly on that debut with a cracking second in the Moscow Flyer behind Andy Dufresne.
But I have upgraded that run by 3lbs as he ran quite free through the first half mile that day and he wouldn’t have been suited by the stop-start pace. An out and out gallop, which is the norm in this curtain raiser, is what he wants and what he should get here and anything in double figures will do for me.
Of the rest, and there are plenty of them, Abacadabras has bundles of speeds but at times his hurdling has been slip-shod, but the likeable Fidddlerontheroof and at a much bigger price, Blackbow, could out run his current odds if he lines up.
The Champion Hurdle has as much depth as a kids paddling pool and EPATANTE is probably the right market leader at 11/4 following her wins at Newbury and Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle.
Critics point to her one disappointing run under rules coming at last year’s festival in the mares’ novice hurdle, but there were valid excuses that day and with the mares’ allowance she is top of my ratings by 3lbs with the distinct possibility of more to come.
Her scopey stable mate Fusil Raffles can be forgiven that run at Christmas as he pulled like the Flying Scotsman, while last year’s Triumph Hurdle hero Pentland Hills has twice shaped like the best horse in the race this season without seemingly going through with it.
Henderson has pinned his hopes on a breathing op putting him right. However, to my eyes it is simply a case of him settling which a fast pace will probably do. Henderson has a lot to be smiling about for the first day feature. Despite his defeat on Sunday, which remember was over 2m 3f , Thomas Darby is still very lightly raced at the age of seven and proven over the course and distance.
I will probably save on him each-way at a double figure price once he is given the green light.
I have had an in depth discussion with a shrewd pro punter about where Mister Fisher should run at this year’s Festival and I am coming around to his view that the 2m Arkle Chase is the race, but this smart young chaser will go where the going is quickest and we will only know that at the start of the week.
Notebook jumps and travels like a very smart horse, but I am not convinced he will get home here after having to dig deep at Leopardstown last time out and marked preference is for the unexposed BREWINUPASTORM @ 6/1 non runner money back.
I was at Carlisle when he won on his chasing debut where he looked sticky at his obstacles, yet his engine got him out of trouble. Apart from a mistake at the last, he was a lot more fluent next time out at Taunton when he beat Southfield Stone, who ran a solid race when second in the Grade 2 Pendil Chase at Kempton on Saturday.
He will adore a fast-run race and his handler Olly Murphy reports his latest schooling to be top class in recent weeks.
Two of the top three in the betting in the National Hunt Chase may not even turn up for the lucky last, so there is plenty of value in this market place. I am quite sweet on Newtide at 20/1 who has always shaped like an out-and-out stayer and has been kept fresh by Kim Bailey for this. He’s also entered in the RSA Chase the following day, but Paddy is non runner money back so that’s all good.
All Newtide does is gallop and because he is a bit lazy – we mightn’t have seen the best of him yet.
*Prices and entries are correct at publication ans Paddy is going non runner money back on all Cheltenham races.