Good morning all,
As promised, the first of my ante-post pieces, starting with the most open Champion Hurdle that I can remember for some while.
Leicester off has rather spannered my plans for the day, as I was off down there for the afternoon. Oh well. Might have to go to Warwick on Saturday instead!
This looks one of the most open Champion Hurdles for some time, with no standout candidate stepping forward as yet. We don’t, of course, know what the ground is going to be like on the day and there are a few candidates that will definitely want it one way or the other, but that aside, is there any value to be had at this stage?
Epatante heads the market, almost by virtue of being the only one not to blot her copybook this season. She’s 2-2, including taking the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton last time, showing some good gears in the process. She also seems impervious to ground conditions, unless it got very deep, and her chance is there to see. However, her form this season can have a few holes knocked in it – her Newbury win hasn’t thrown up another winner other than herself, and she was well beaten in the Mares Novice race at the Festival last season. So she has a bit to prove and whilst her form is good, it’s far from unbeatable.
Saldier impressed me more when taking the Morgiana, looking almost like a step up in trip wouldn’t go amiss, but that form has taken a knock too and he has been well beaten at the Festival, having finished only fifth to Farclas in the 2018 Triumph. Pentland Hills is very interesting, as connections thought him the better horse before the International yet the market said otherwise, and it may be he needed the run more than was thought. All the same, that effort was an improvement on anything he achieved as a juvenile and having proven himself at the Festival, he goes on the shortlist, despite his age.
Last year’s Supreme winner Klassical Dream has it all to prove after two odds-on defeats this year and it would be a surprise to me if he even lines up here. Honeysuckle keeps winning but her time figures are very moderate and I’d question whether a drop back to 2m is in her favour. Sharjah’s Grade 1 win over Christmas is probably as good a piece of form as there is in the race, and there are excuses for his two Festival defeats, although I still question whether he came up the hill with any gusto in the 2017 Supreme, heavy ground (which he won his bumpers on) or not. It could just be he’s a stronger horse this season and as such is hard to discount, but his price is probably right now.
Envoi Allen is unbeaten in seven starts and has impressed in his wins at Fairyhouse and Naas, and you can see why connections would be tempted to throw their hat into the ring here. You can argue that one or two of his jumps were, unsurprisingly, novicey, but he’s learning with each run and would be worthy of his place in what is a winnable Champion Hurdle. But I’m always of the opinion that you win your novices and move through the grades, and I do think that the Supreme is where he’s more likely to end up.
Call Me Lord hasn’t done much wrong and put to bed the theory he needs to go right-handed with victory in the International. That form wasn’t actually his best form – that, unsurprisingly, has come at his beloved Sandown, but he is quietly progressive and soft ground on the day would make him more interesting.
Silver Streak took the step up from classy handicapper to Graded level when placed in the race last year, and twice this season he’s run to that form. Another repeat of it gives him chances of hitting the frame again, but there are other handicappers waiting to step up this year, and top of that list is Not So Sleepy. The case was made for him in the Racing Post yesterday and it’s a perfectly solid one – class Flat horse that is now proving himself just as adept with hurdles in the way, but if we are arguing a case for him hitting the frame, then we’ve got to argue one for Monsieur Lecoq at four times the price as well. The evidence – beaten two necks in the Greatwood, giving 5lb to the winner, a close fourth in a race not run to suit him in the International and then he gave no less than 18lb to Not So Sleepy when second to him at Ascot, finding himself in a bit of traffic on more than one occasion, and running a career-best in the process. In truth, I think he’s more likely to rock up in the County, and the hurly-burly of that would suit this puller down to the ground, but if Not So Sleepy does run here, we’d be assured of a good pace, and Monsieur Lecoq isn't that far behind the principals to be a 100-1 shot here. Worth remembering he’s only just turned six himself, so might even have a bit more to come.
So at this stage, a win bet on Pentland Hills, who I expect to come on plenty for his International effort, and a very small e/w bet on Monsieur Lecoq at 100s is the way I’m playing this. I realise Pentland Hills is only 5 and they don't have a great record in the race, but one won it last year, and I'll argue this year's race is weaker. So that's less of a worry.
I wouldn’t put you off the 33-1 e/w 5 places Monsieur Lecoq for the County either (Paddy/Betfair) as if he does go to the Betfair Hurdle and runs well, which could easily happen, he’ll be a lot shorter for both races and we should be in a good position. I realise we’ll be throwing one of the stakes away, so you could wait for NRNB, but I’d rather take my chances with the prices as they are now.
Leicester off means a change of selection, so Newcastle becomes the focus instead. Gowanbuster was half-interesting at 20s to make all in the 2.25 but that mark is probably a few pounds too high, so instead I've had a small e/w bet on Melgate Majeure in the 3.30 in the hope the headgear works. If it does, he's well enough handicapped on a track he goes well at, and the drop back in grade can only help too. Chances in a moderate contest.
Good luck with all your bets today,