Good morning all,
The weather this week is making even me wish for something warmer, and I love the winter, as my good lady will testify (she hates me for it – “but why, it’s always dark?”) and it looks increasingly like a blank Saturday as far as National Hunt racing goes. I’d say that the warmer weather coming in early next week is a blessing, but that brings the rain with it….
Anyway, I thought I’d start to tell you where I am betting-wise and my early thoughts on each day at Cheltenham, starting with Tuesday today. I have, of course, left the handicaps out – I’ll deal with them nearer the time, but if you think I’m touching the Foxhunters or the Bumper, you’ve another thing coming.
With racing having all but bitten the dust tomorrow, I’ll split Tuesday – the biggest day – in two, with the first part today and second part tomorrow.
No bets as yet here.
Appreciate It is hard to knock and didn’t have to be at his best to win at Leopardstown last week, but he did it easily and with him already having Cheltenham form in the bank, namely his second to Ferny Hollow in the bumper last year, he is a worthy favourite. Whether he should be quite as short as he is is debatable, but you’re not going to be getting a big price about him with Mullins multiples likely to be starting with him on the day.
Quicker ground would ask a new question of Appreciate It, but then you can say that for plenty here, including the best of the British runners, Metier. I was taken with his Tolworth performance as it marked him out as a strong stayer at the trip, something that is vital, but you’d like to see Harry Fry having a few winners in the next few weeks, wouldn’t you? His stats since the turn of the year read 3-32, and too many are running poorly. There’s time to turn that around, but he has to.
Bob Olinger can be given a chance with Appreciate It on a line through Blue Lord but the Ballymore looks much more his race. However, it isn't impossible that they’ll drop him back in trip as he travels well in his races and doesn’t lack pace, so the 14-1 NRNB looks worth a go with Paddy Power because if Appreciate It does suffer a setback, this will have the look of an open race, and he’d be an awful lot shorter.
Nothing much at the bigger prices makes much appeal, although Tritonic might be mildly interesting if he came here rather than the Triumph. More on him once we reach Friday, though.
No bets yet.
Two horse race, right? Yes, probably. I’m just in the Shiskin camp at present but not by a lot. He may not have travelled that well early on at Doncaster but I’m putting that down to the ground, and the further the contest went on, the better he looked. The times he’s been clocking are fine, he’s not ground dependent, and I’d just have him over Energumene.
He’s improved a bit with each chase start he’s had this year and could not have been more impressive in beating Franco De Port in the Irish Arkle last week. Quicker ground would be something of a question mark but that aside, there’s little between the two, and one of them ought to be winning this.
I suppose you can argue the 11-4 with 365 about Energumene is fair, given the gap between them is so small, but at this stage I’m happy enough to sit tight, as there must be a fair chance you’ll get 9-4 and bigger on the day with the reward of your money back if you’re second.
The problem with looking for an each-way bet is the pair of them are likely to be in the frame, so you’re playing for one place and at this stage there are plenty of candidates for third. It isn't hard to see Sky Pirate ridden chilly and coming through for the minors, but again, that makes little appeal at this stage.
Bets so far
Honeysuckle win (4-1) and Song For Someone e/w (33-1)
I managed to get a bit of the 4-1 about Honeysuckle after her win in the Irish Champion Hurdle last weekend, a performance that I’d been waiting for her to pull out of the bag as her previous three wins hadn’t blown me away, and I was starting to question whether she was capable of such a performance. Well, she did it here, and in such style. I think that Champion Hurdle market was crying out for something to take it by the scruff of the neck, and she did. With proven Festival form to her name, she should be clear favourite now.
I think my ante-post bet on Song For Someone is likely to go west, as Aintree looks the preferred option for him, but I have been impressed with his razor-sharp hurdling and speed between the hurdles themselves. He stays a bit further too – never a bad thing for a Champion Hurdle – and if he lined up, I can see him making a good fist of things. His win over Silver Streak (giving him 2lb) in the International is decent form, better than anything Epatante has achieved this year, although of course the 7lb allowance helps her cause.
Epatante herself was reported to have a small back problem after her Kempton defeat at Christmas, and I don’t consider that to be a positive. I get she’s the current champion and has the form to win this, but nothing she’s done this year convinces me, and others with stronger or very similar claims are a much bigger price.
Last year I got lured in by Monsieur Lecoq at a whopping price after he tried to give Not So Sleepy weight in the Ladbroke at Ascot and I’m falling into a similar trap this year after Buzz tried to give him 6lb at Ascot and was beaten a length. Of those at the bigger prices he makes plenty of appeal as one that will travel well on the bridle and still be bang there between the last two – it’ll then be a matter of what he’s got left for the hill. I’ll have a small e/w bet at the 40s available now, as a good run in the (now rescheduled) Betfair Hurdle would see his price shorten, and probably go in again on the day once the firms offer extra places.
Today makes little appeal for a bet and the only fancy I have is Essaka in the 3.15 at Southwell. He's drifting to a backable price now, having finished fourth behind a couple of these on Sunday, but that was his first look at the track and I don't think stall 1 helped him. He's drawn much more middle here, and I think he'll get a lot closer today.
Good luck with all your bets today,