A very warm welcome to the first of my previews of the Cheltenham Festival that is now only six weeks away. I’ll start things off with the Supreme Novice Hurdle which for racing fans is without doubt the most eagerly anticipated four minutes (well on slow ground) of the whole year. Many sports fans look forward to the ashes, fa cup final, world cup, euros or the ryder cup but if you’re a racing fan and especially a national hunt fan, the roar is the most important point of the calender year. It is like that dribble you acquire when you can smell the roast beef in the oven and get a glipmse of the gravy.
As per usual for this contest we have a fairly short priced favourite in the form of Jezki who is currently unbeaten over hurdles with four wins from four starts with his most notable scalp being that of last years bumper winner Champagne Fever who has since disappointed in the Slaney Hurdle. He has since been purchased by JP McManus which wasn’t much of a surprise as he owns Waaheb (and thinks a lot of him) who was second to Jezki at Leopardstown at christmas. He is currently as short as 3/1 favourite and as things stand that is just much too short. Most of this seasons racing has been run on bad ground and come March we may well be racing on a much better surface although this is far from certain. As far as value goes, he certainly doesn’t qualify at this stage.
Currently clear second in the market is Un Atout from the Willie Mullins team. He again just looks too short to me on what he has achieved and I actually have real doubts about him getting up the hill in a fiercely run race. Puffin Billy is next best in at around the 10/1 mark. It was thought that the Neptune would have originally been his target but his trainer Oliver Sherwood stated that he is very much leaning towards the Supreme unless we get quickish ground. You are still running the risk with him that he could go elsewhere so if he is your selection I would be looking to maybe back him non runner no bet. He has looked very good in all of his starts to date but you are slightly stabbing in the dark to a degree as he just hasn’t beaten anything of note. He really impressed me at Ascot though and I think he is a definite player as the hustle and bustle of a quickly run race like this is likely to really suit him. One thing that always sticks in my mind for this race is that you need to stay and he will clearly get further whereas Un Atout might need an oxygen tank over the last.
It’s hard to know what to make of My Tent Or Yours. He was beaten fair and square at Newbury by Chatterbox who we haven’t seen since. His win at Warwick next time was fairly straight forward although impressive to a degree. He is another one that if I was interested in I would be looking at backing him at around 16/1 so the fact that he is 10’s and shorter in places makes him a no go at this stage. River Maigue doesn’t represent any value to me either but I’ll touch on that shortly.
Dodging Bullets is the first one that looks to be slightly overpriced as he has probably achieved more than most of these over hurdles to date. He travelled pretty well in the Christmas Hurdle on Boxing day in ground that I wasn’t sure he really liked. He hung a little bit late on aswell which would be a slight concern. He beat River Maigue fair and square at Cheltenham previous to this in a slowly run race although RM was said to have needed the run. If I’m honest he is a bit of an enigma. I think he could run a big race but form lines behind Grumeti and Countrywide Flame last year don’t scream Supreme winner to me. I’ll sit on the fence but if any of you were going to back him each way at 14/1 I wouldn’t be able to put you off.
So where if anywhere can we find any sort of value? Well my first port of call will be John Ferguson’s New Years Eve who looked smart in bumpers last year before finishing second in the feature at the festival in a race where things didn’t really go his way. You can ignore the run at Punchestown in horrible ground. He should never have run. This years re-appearance at Kempton was more than satisfactory for me. River Maigue had a huge fitness and experience edge and after clattering the first hurdle he was given a nice enough introduction by Denis O’Regan. The form from that race is actually looking pretty strong to me as the third horse Kings Lad was a very good second at the weekend in a warm race won by the potentially very well handicapped Mr Watson. The fourth horse won a jumpers bumper pretty easily next time and the sixth horse home who was well beaten chased home Valdez at Plumpton on his next start. We would have seen more of him had the weather not been so severe and he is certainly one of the brigade that will be crying out for better ground come March. If the weather eases and we are looking at good ground then I think he could be a huge player and O’Regan is a perfect partner form him. He is as big as 25/1 and as short as 12/1 in places which also shows that the enemy are a little unsure on where to sit with him. I’ve been nibbling him at 30/1 and bigger on Betfair for a while in the hope that we will get good ground.
The second on the list of horses that may represent some value would be Pique Sous. He is another that has been running in ground that he hasn’t looked to enjoy over hurdles so far and better ground will almost certainly suit him better. It will be a shot in the dark slightly as he has only run twice over hurdles to date including getting turned over at 1/3 on his first start in August. He was put away after his win in October and better ground was almost certainly the reason. At 25/1 he possibly represents some decent value and I would expect him to be about half that price come the day.
Of the remainder the only one on the page that stares at me is Waaheb. I’m absolutely certain that he is a bit of a machine and that better ground is likely to suit him much better than the ground he has encountered over hurdles so far. He obviously has six lengths to find with Jezki but there is no way that he was fully tuned up for that and he was given a pretty patient ride by AP that day. The worrying thing about him is that he is as big as 45/1 on Betfair which is never ideal. He has to be part of calculations though as I would never forgive myself if he won.
There has obviously been a lot of talk and reference in this preview to the hope of better ground come the festival. That is no certainty whatsoever given the state of the track at the moment and that Simon Claisse has said on record that the course has been struggling to recover more than ever this year. If the ground did come up on the soft side I think I would be tempted into backing Puffin Billy. but as things stand I’m happy with my book at the moment looking like this………
NEW YEARS EVE 2 pts win @ 28/1 and bigger.
PIQUE SOUS 1 pt win @ 25/1
WAAHEB 0.5 pts win @ 45/1
I will obviously adjust my position the nearer we get to the race but I am more than happy with how things are shaping up.
Six weeks, can’t wait!