The waiting is over and Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival is upon us.
As usual for this meeting there will be special offers in abundance. Enhanced place terms are always worth looking out for and there will be some daily offers that I will highlight whenever possible this week.
Unfortunately there will also be a plethora of crazy enhanced prices to offer for setting up new accounts but I won’t be looking out for any of those. They usually have a very low maximum bet acceptance and are just marketing gimmicks. Useful only if you have the chance to open an account in the name of your grandmother or dog!
Also make sure to check when taking a price for ‘Best Odds Guaranteed’ (available with the majority of firms) so that if the SP does end up bigger you won’t lose out
The going at time of writing is good to soft with good in places. With some light rain forecast later today but a drying day tomorrow we hopefully shouldn’t see too much difference this time tomorrow.
Onto the racing:
1.30 Supreme Novice Hurdle 2ml
¼ 123 odds a place generally available for the opening race of the meeting.
Odds available here: http://www.oddschecker.com/horse-racing/2015-03-10-cheltenham/13:30/winner
Some offers of note that should be worth much consideration for those having accounts with these firms:
http://www.paddypower.com ; We will refund all losing single stakes on the Supreme Novices Hurdle as a free bet if Douvan wins (up to £50)
http://www.willhill.com : ‘Place a bet of up to £25 on the first race of the festival, and if your win or each way bet doesn’t come in, we’ll give you your money back as a free bet!’
This doesn’t have quite the competitive look to it that it usually has with two standout contenders at the top of the market frightening off all but 10 opponents.
Douvan heads the market for Ireland based on two very easy wins over 2 miles this season. It is a bit questionable what he has backed and this will be far his sternest test to date. He could be another Willie Mullins world beater but his short price is largely based on hype and doesn’t represent great value to me.
L’Ami Serge is next up and for me has slightly stronger credentials. His last two wins were on soft ground in small fields but his first win this season at Newbury is perhaps more telling – an easy win over Kilcooley has been advertised greatly by the runner up since. He doesn’t seem the most fluent jumper at times but always looks to have loads left in the tank and is the one to beat for me in this race. (A 66 day break since his last run isn’t ideal in terms of stats for race winners of this but we know he can perform well fresh)
Jollyalan is the other in the field with a handicap rating over 150 but has even more jumping concerns at this level and still looks a bit of a work in progress judged on his latest defeat at Sandown.
Qewy will also have some support and won very nicely at Newbury last time. It’s a while since a good ex flat racer won this event but going back in time many of those that did (French Ballerina, Flown, Harry Hastings, Shadow Leader) were all proven performers at 12 furlongs or more. It’s a little offputting for me that Qewy has only proved himself at lesser trips and I wonder if Aintree might have been a better target for him with stamina in mind. The uphill finish here could be his undoing.
Some Plan also gets a mention at a big price. He looks a horse for the future but ran his rivals into the ground from the front last time. He is likely to ensure a strong pace here which will have many in trouble. I can see him having improved enough to reverse earlier season form with Seedling but he may still be setting up the race for others in the home straight.
Verdict: I was considering a bet on L’Ami Serge a couple of weeks ago when he was around 9/2 but decided to wait until it became non runner no bet when I thought there was a good chance he would be the same price or possibly better. That plan has gone a little awry and at time of writing 7/2 is best available which is just under the price I would have wanted to recommend.
He is the selection for the race but is not a bet recommendation for now . (One to include in ew multiples for the day)
Ground remains unchanged at Good to Soft with Good in places overnight. The forecast is for a dry and suny day so it could well be all Good by the time of racing.
I will be having a play on LAmi Serge if 4/1 or higher becomes available but for now it it isn’t. It all depends on whether the money comes down for Douvan from Ireland if his price goes out or not.
2.05 Arkle Trophy 2ml
¼ odds 123 generally available
Another offer to take note of here from Paddy Power: ‘We will refund all losing single stakes on the Arkle Chase as a free bet if Un De Sceaux wins.’ (£50 max refund)
Un De Sceaux is a short priced favourite for the Irish and could well be in a different league to his rivals here.
He will undoubtedly blast off from the front from the start (1980 the last time we had an all the way winner) and very hard to envisage anything having the pace to live with him. There isn’t really another rival left in the declarations who looks a likely front runner anyway (Clarcam tried it last time and paid for the effort so will probably be held back more on this occasion)
There are enough negatives to put me off him though.
Not having ever run at the track and having no experience of this festival occasion. For a horse who both Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty have said ‘ they haven’t felt in control of’ during parts of his previous wins – the chances of the occasion getting to him have to be considered.
He’s a low quick jumper (fell on his first start this season) and that style may encounter problems at this undulating course.
If he can surmount these issues he most likely wins – and wins easily but at odds on (8/11 currently best on offer) that’s too much to risk
I’ve already selected Vibrato Valtat Ante Post for this and am happy to sit with that position taken at a bigger price than is available now. He won’t be vying for the lead early and will be ridden to pick up the pieces from the back. I think he’s improved since beating Three Kingdoms at Kempton and while that rival looks a big price in comparison I would be concerned that his jumping may not be quite good enough here.
Court Minstrel gets a mention as a big outsider who really needs good ground to be most effective. We can forget his last run because of that and he’s another ‘stalker’ who will be held up at the back.
At the moment this a no bet race for me at current odds though Vibrato Valtat gets the pick for the each way multiples.
2pts ew Vibrato Valtat 7/1
1pt ew double Vibrato Valtat 6/1 + Jezki 6/1 (Champion Hurdle)
No extra bets for me but if I could get on with them Ladbrokes’s 11/8 currently offered on Clarcam to beat Josses Hill would be interesting. The latter has some big jumping problems to overcome
2.40 3 mile hcap chase
Generally ¼ odds 1234 but take note that some firms are dangling a carrot of offering 5 places.
Low weighted horses used to be ones to look out for here with the advantage on the side of those carrying less than 11 stone. That theory didn’t work last year though with Holywell carrying 11st 6lbs to victory and two others placing from 11st+.
Being aged 11 or more was another big negative but that doesn’t affect many this year..
Novices have a good record in recent years and much of this augurs well for Ned Stark who looked a chaser going places when winning at Wetherby last time. Alan King won this with a novice (Fork Lightning) in 2004 and Bensalem for him looked like doing the same until falling in 2010 (before making up for that the following year!)
The Druids Nephew appeals as the main danger with Barry Geraghty back onboard – a combination that looked a little unlucky here against Gold Cup bound Sam Winner in November. That form still makes him look as if he could have a few pounds in hand of his mark of 146. Despite him being touted for the Grand National I very much doubt that this is a prep race and that this has been his main target this season.
In contrast this should really be a prep race for Monbeg Dude who I have already tipped up for the Grand National. With the weights now out he can still be competitive here but connections will want to be saving something back for Aintree or else he could have been very interesting at 25/1 (still place potential though)
Pendra has seen support in recent days and may do so still with AP McCoy on board but he isn’t for me. He’s been well supported to win handicaps at the Festival for the last two seasons off lower marks but hasn’t delivered and has a stamina question mark at this trip. Barrakilla has a nice weight with 10st 7lbs but is also unproven over 3 miles.
Gallant Oscar is of most interest of the lower weights but with all of his form on softer ground there is a question mark over him on this quicker surface
1pt ew Ned Stark 8/1 (BetVictor/Betfair Sportsbook who both offer 5 places)
9/1 currently available on Ned Stark with BetVictor (level with Betfair Exchange price)
3.20 Champion Hurdle 2ml
The centrepiece of the first day and as long as the 8 declared runners are still there at the start it’s generally ¼ odds 123 on offer
Again we have a previous ante post recommendation running here with Jezki taken at bigger odds than are now available.
With ground conditions likely to suit I would expect him to reverse earlier season form with Hurricane Fly.
Faugheen will be taking on better class opponents than he has routed so far this season but could easily be up to the task. It’s just a little niggle about his jumping that makes me think his current price of 5/4 best is a tad too short. Expect that to shorten or lengthen depending on what happens to Douvan and Un De Sceaux earlier in the day.
The New One is the other member of the Champion Hurdle triumvirate but his jumping has long had a question mark at the top level and is a worry again.
It’ll be a big shock for me if the winner comes from outside these main three and the biggest conundrum here will be how the race is run.
There’s no pacemaker in the field so Faugheen could be allowed to dictate the fractions. Jezki’s owner also has Kitten Rock in the race – he should be there on his own merit but could he be sacrificed to apply some pace and not let Faugheen have it all his own way?
For now it’s a no bet race at current odds for me with the Ante Post interest already on board
2pts ew Jezki 6/1
Nothing to add this morning for this race
4.00 Mares Hurdle 2ml 4fur
Generally ¼ 123 (beware a few offering 1/5th)
Quevega won this 4 times in a row and now team Mullins look set to monopolise the event once more with an arguably better mare – Annie Power – a short price favourite.
The stable also supplied last years 2nd Glens Melody but there was no contest when these two met as novices and Annie ran out a very easy 12 length winner.
The problem is that Annie Power hasn’t run yet this season and her preparation has had some problems according to reports – or else she may well have been running in the World Hurdle instead.
It’s quite likely that she won’t have to be 100% to win this but while she is much the likeliest winner her odds are quite prohibitive given those little doubts about her wellbeing this year..
Polly Peachum is highest rated of the home contingent and does have a rating 5lb higher than Glens Melody. She hasn’t been seen since pulling up at Kempton – a run largely best ignored as Caroles Spirit slipped the field and got too far clear under an inspired Daryl Jacob ride giving the others and impossible task to catch her. That 106 day absence is a slight concern although it seems likely that she has been waiting for better ground.
I cant back Annie Power but wouldn’t want to back against her either. Betting without the favourite would be the main market of interest for me and so will look for more firms to offer that tomorrow before making any judgement
Betfred/Totesports 4/1 (1/4 123) for Polly Peachum in their betting without Annie Power looking the most attractive option this morning. Barry Geraghty seemed qiuite optimistic about here chances in his regular At The Races blog last night
4.40 National Hunt Chase 4 miles
¼ odds 123 with most firms
There are some unhappy Ante Post backers around here after Very Wood became a runner today after being announced as a runner in the RSA Chase at the end of last week (and Ante Post fav Wounded Warrior swapping with him)
Very Wood does have a lot to recommend him having won at the Festival as a novice hurdler last season when looking a real stayer.
Stamina for 4 miles is unproven but that applies to virtually the whole field. He appeals as the likeliest winner but I wouldn’t feel confident enough to put him up as a bet at around 7/2.
If any firm did offer 4 places on this tomorrow I might be looking more for a longer priced outsider each way.
Vivaldi Collonges (inexperienced but appears to need an extreme distance and decent ground) and Theatre Queen (quirky but extraordinary performance last time considering she stood still at the start ) would be two such to consider
For now it’s a NO BET race
With some firms now offering 4 places I’m tempted by a small bet here.
Vivaldi Colonges isn’t a stats pick – he’s probably too young and not enough chasing experience for that. But I just feel the distance and going here are going to be right up his street and he has an excellent pilot aboard in Will Biddick.
Recommendation 0.5 pts ew Vivaldi Collonges 16/1 (1/4 1234 – Betfred/Totesport)
5.15 2ml 4fur Novices Hcap Chase
The finale is generally ¼ 1234 but again look out for a few offering that extra place.
I’ve had Thomas Crapper in mind for this race for some time and he has sneaked in with a very low weight after some inspired placing over inadequate trip and bad ground to get him back to a mark of 134 from 138.
Cheltenham, decent ground and 20 furlongs all seems to be his optimum conditions and his form against current RSA fav Don Poli at the Festival last year looks all the better now..
I’m hardly being imaginative in nominating Generous Ransom as his main danger. Nick Gifford has looked after this one carefully throughout his career and he came of age at Cheltenham last time when looking the winner a long way out.
The family all have a marked appreciation for better ground so it was no surprise to see him wilt a little on the run in there. I expect more improvement than the 8 lb raise the handicapper has given him back on better going – and expect him to confirm the form with third home Irish Cavalier
1.5 pts ew each
Thomas Crapper 15/2
Generous Ransom 7/1
Both with BetVictor and Betfair Sportsbook who offer 5 places
Generous Ransom now a mouthwatering 10/1 with BetVictor and with 5 places. That’s a point higher than Betfair Exchange who are only 9/1 right now (same price as their Sportsbook who also offer the 5th place option)
The blog will get some updates each morning if anything catches my eye on the day of the race.
Day 2’s thoughts will appear tomorrow evening – hopefully in advance of Pricewise selections – and will continue in the same way for Day 3 and 4.
Many thanks for reading and good luck this week with whatever you end up backing
Comments are always most welcome
Initial Bank 50pts
Current Balance 14 pts
Ante Post Bets staked 27pts
Day 1 Cheltenham bets staked 9 pts