Less than a month away from the Festival and we’re sitting in a good position with at least two bets so far, hopefully that number continues to grow!
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
What’s par for the course with Novice Hurdlers is that there is plenty of excitement around their potential and the fact that we could see the next superstar. Once a horse wins a race semi-impressively, the hype begins and from what goes around on social media, they won’t lose another race!
A prime example here, in my opinion, is Shishkin. Of course he could be exceptional, but logic dictates the chances of that are in fact pretty slim and his price in the market contradicts that. A best price 3/1 to win the Supreme, yes he’s won impressively, but the level of form he’s shown certainly doesn’t entitle him to be market leader.
The likes of Asterion, Forlonge, Fiddlerontheroof, Chantry House and Sporting John all fit the same sort of profile as Shishkin, with the former pair both having won at a higher level to boot!
But the one who should without doubt be favourite in my eyes is Abacadabras, yet he’s 11/2. He was fourth in a strong Champion Bumper here last season, which shows he handles the track. Three of his four hurdles starts he’s won (easily), including at the highest level last time.
The only time he’s lost was when he was second to Envoi Allen in the Royal Bond, the form of which is excellent. Darver Star (third) was second to Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle next time and Envoi Allen has won another Grade 1 and is 5/4 favourite for the Ballymore. Abacadabras has also beaten Latest Exhibition who is second favourite for the Albert Bartlett!
This horse is all about speed and the Supreme looks perfect for him. We haven’t seen him since Christmas which is perhaps why he’s been a bit forgotten about, but on what we know he’s too big of a price and I can’t let him go unbacked.
Back Abacadabras @ 11/2
National Hunt Chase
Shorter in distance this season, the National Hunt Chase market is headed by Carefully Selected for Willie Mullins. Unbeaten over fences and placed in multiple Grade 1 events, he’s clearly a talent. The engine is evidently there, but I’m yet to be convinced by his jumping. Mistakes in each of his chase runs so far and a couple of fairly significant ones at that, he won’t get away is lightly at Cheltenham, especially with more fences to jump.
One who’s much more assured in that department is Champagne Classic for Gordon Elliott, who’s aiming for his fourth success in this contest in the past ten years. The Gigginstown-owned gelding was a winner at the Festival in 2017 before following up in Grade 1 company at Punchestown. He suffered injury subsequently and began his chasing career last year. The plan was to run him in the National Hunt Chase that season but sadly another setback meant he missed it.
Back this season with a couple of wins and a second in a Grade 1 behind stablemate Battleoverdoyen, I’ve been impressed with the soundness of his jumping. Looking assured at every obstacle, that’ll be a huge asset at Cheltenham. This race will have long been the plan considering it was pencilled in for last year! Elliott will have him cherry ripe and even though he’s not proven at the trip, he’s a Grade 1 winner over three miles and looks to hold every chance of staying the extra distance.
Another tick in his box is when backing a horse from this stable, a talented amateur is almost all but guaranteed.
Back Champagne Classic @ 5/1
RSA Novices’ Chase
I believe this contest revolves around one horse, Champ. On ability he’s probably one of the best, if not the best, novice around over any trip. But it hasn’t been a smooth passage this campaign.
Starting the season with a couple of starts at Newbury, the second of those he almost went onto the wrong part of the track after the final fence, but managed to manoeuvre back onto the right path. Both those efforts came over a shorter trip than the RSA and despite both races containing their fair share of jumping blemishes, he only looked to be getting going in the final furlong. He’s a definite three miler in my opinion.
At Cheltenham last time, he appeared to be cruising to victory before coming down at the second last. It’s not ideal coming into the Festival on the back of a fall, but that was on New Year’s Day and he’s had plenty of opportunity to practice before mid-March.
He needs to have improved at his obstacles but he’s trained by a master and I have full faith. His price factors this in though I think, as he’s simply the best horse in the race, especially this season as Minella Indo was far from convincing last time.
If he gets round, he should win.
Back Champ @ 7/2
Marsh Novices’ Chase
Last year the Marsh (then known as JLT) was red hot with Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation fighting out the finish. If we have another couple of those this time around I wouldn’t be so sure, but it’s a very intriguing betting heat at present.
Itchy Feet won a Grade 1 on just his second start over fences, cashing in on Laurina disappointing again. Add that to a third place finish in the Supreme last season and he holds pretty solid credentials.
I have loved watching Faugheen this season, it’s so heartwarming to see him come back and win two Grade 1’s at the age of 12.
But I would say if he does go to Cheltenham, I’d be a bit tentative in backing him. Purely because Mullins said after his win at the Dublin Racing Festival that that was his Gold Cup. So whether he can get him back to the same form just over a month later, it’ll be difficult. Even so, his jumping could well struggle in this contest and the RSA may be more suitable.
At the prices, I really like Black Op to run a big race. He hasn’t got that typical attractive profile that people like in novices, which in my eyes is what makes him too big of a price as it seems he’s being a bit disregarded.
High class course form with a second in the 2018 Ballymore and a Grade 1 win at Aintree following that, he clearly has the ability. His chasing career didn’t begin as planned last season and so connections pulled up stumps to keep his novice status for this season. But even so, the only horses he was behind in his two chase starts were Defi Du Seuil, Topofthegame and Lostintranslation… not bad!
Returning with a bang this campaign, he demolished a field at Stratford before finding only Champ too good at Newbury. Another runner up effort last time in the Kauto Star at Kempton behind Slate House, it’s a solid piece of form. But to be honest I don’t think three miles is his trip, he’s never won over it and he’s a strong stayer that has enough speed at a two and a half miles.
He doesn’t always give his obstacles a great deal of respect, but he gets away from them quickly. Something else with him is he has a great attitude, really sticking his neck out and being brave could be the difference coming up the Cheltenham hill in the opener on Thursday.
The RSA is an option for him, but as I’ve said I think this is the right race and it’s also not as strong in my opinion. 14/1 is more than fair in my eyes considering his general level of form and it’s even better with the Non Runner No Bet concession in case he goes to the RSA.
Back Black Op @ 14/1 Each Way (Non Runner No Bet)
The market for the Triumph Hurdle has been dominated by three horses for a while now, all of them with different things to recommend them. Allmankind has proved himself to have plenty of ability, but with that he’s extremely hot-headed.
I would be very worried about him at the Cheltenham Festival – I can’t say I’d be surprised if he lost the race in the parade ring to be honest. If he gets down to the start alright and can get a solo lead, he’ll be dangerous, but it’s a big if for me.
Aspire Tower looks the leading Irish hope, but he’s coming off the back of a fall and also likes to be at the front of the pack. I can see him taking on Allmankind and those two getting into a bit of a battle early on.
Goshen is the one for me. What he’s done over the past nine months is quite extraordinary. Three flat wins by a combined 28 lengths and three hurdles wins by a combined 68 lengths.
Winning with any amount in hand over obstacles so far, he’s very exciting. The bare form isn’t anything to shout about but the manner in which he’s done it has been exceptional. The issue he has is he tends to jump a bit right at his hurdles. However, having watched his races back, when he’s amongst horses it’s nowhere near as bad, he still does it slightly, but it’s not going to lose him any significant ground. There is only one hurdle to jump in the long home straight at Cheltenham and that is next to the stands rail, so that will help him hugely.
He’s a very quick jumper and even when he’s in tight he gets his feet out quickly and doesn’t lose any momentum. He took a lead from Manucci for a bit at Ascot last time so I don’t think he’ll have a problem sitting behind Allmankind and (hopefully) cruising into the lead.
His time is now and he’s a really well built, strong juvenile. Due out at Haydock on Saturday, that will give him more experience at a left-handed track and fingers crossed he maintains his unbeaten record for a while longer yet.
Back Goshen @ 9/2
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Thyme Hill has done absolutely nothing wrong this campaign and you could argue that he could be an even stronger favourite given he only ever does enough and he’s won every start this season.
But this race is rife for producing big priced winners, with no victor in the last six years being single figure odds, including 50/1 and two 33/1 upsets. So I’m hoping that trend will continue.
Sempo looks way overpriced for Joseph O’Brien. Having finished sixth in the Champion Bumper last season, he clearly possesses class, but over hurdles he’s all about stamina with the class just giving him that little extra over a lot of his rivals at this trip as a novice.
Progressive results in three runs over hurdles so far, stepping up in trip every time. His first two starts he was very eye-catching in the final furlong, running on strongly to leave the impression and much more stamina sapping trip will suit. The form of his penultimate run when second to Cobblers Way (runner up in a Grade 1 subsequently) and ahead of The Big Getaway (subsequent 17 length winner) is very strong.
An impressive win over an extended two mile and six furlongs last time was an ideal prep for the Albert Bartlett. The demand of the race should suit him down to the ground as he appears to have stamina in abundance, with that little bit of class to see him over the line.
Back Sempo @ 33/1 Each Way