Thursday, 22 February 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 Ante Post: Sailing Up The River To Gold Cup Glory?

A lot can change between now and March 13th but as things stand, this is how we see the best of the Grade One action which forms the centrepiece of what promises to be a £500million betting week.


Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (2m½f)

Willie Mullins’ Getabird is clear favourite for the traditional Cheltenham curtain-raiser but at a general 7/4 is priced to fit his trainer’s reputation more than his own ability.
Stable mate Laurina and especially KALASHNIKOV look more generously priced to me.  Newmarket trainer Amy Murphy may land a famous festival win with her 5yo Kalanisi gelding who looks at least fairly priced up in the run-up to the event.  Apple’s Shakira and Samcro are others of note at reasonable odds.

Arkle Trophy (2m)

Although more improvement is expected from Henry De Bromhead’s Petit Mouchoir, it has to be said that Willie Mullins’ Footpad beat him comfortably in the Irish Arkle last time and should do so again, albeit at restrictive odds.
The most interesting one for me though is general 5/1 shot SAINT CALVADOS who won with his head in his chest at Warwick for Harry Whittingdon and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see sufficient improvement from the young horse to go on and score here.  Brain Power remains of interest at bigger prices.

Champion Hurdle (2m)

Willie Mullins has five of the top 7 listed in the betting this year but none of them are rock solid favourite Buveur D’Air who is odds-on to give Nicky Henderson yet another festival winner.  Last year’s winner has been primed for the task after winning easily at Sandown last time and is many punters’ idea of a banker.
My Tent Or Yours and Faugheen are sure to be popular, however at up to 25/1 Gordon Elliott’s 6yo APPLE’S JADE is terrific value and should go off at a nice each-way price.


RSA Novices’ Chase (3m½f)

Presenting Percy is favourite for the race at this stage but looks vulnerable against a competitive field.  Paul Nicholls’ Black Corton has been busy but must have every chance here at a reasonable price, around the 8/1 mark generally at the time of writing.
Monalee looks a little short to me while Willoughby Court is solid enough, though the value for me appears to lie with six-year-olds Elegant Escape and BENATAR with Gary Moore’s chaser looking the one with more improvement in him following a Grade 2 win in December.

Queen Mother Champion Chase (2m)

Although we have an odds-on favourite here it’s close at the top of the market in truth and the race could pan out much better than we’d all originally thought, though ultimately I have to say it’s easy to see the big three thrashing out the finish of a race such as this.
Altior is said odds-on favourite having won all seven of his chases so far and there’s no doubt that Nicky Henderson’s charge is bang in with a shout, however with a very similar level of form having run two chases less MIN is slightly better value.
The Willie Mullins 7yo could improve past the jolly while Douvan, for the same connections, cannot be discounted either despite having been off the track for a year since his disappointment in this race last year.


Ryanair Chase (2m4½f)

A fascinating race in which established chasers Sub Lieutenant, Fox Norton and current favourite Un De Sceaux all have reasonable chances.
The value may lie in the younger pretenders though with a trio of seven-year-olds all looking like improving enough to land a race of this nature, starting with Henry De Bromhead’s Balko Des Flos.  He hasn’t won since taking the 2017 Galway Plate but is still getting better and shouldn’t be too far away.
Top Notch is well-named and a look at his profile overall says there’s still more to come, however he was soundly beaten by WAITING PATIENTLY when the two clashed at Ascot last time and it’s easy to see Ruth Jefferson’s charge going on to win here, assuming she decides to take up the option.

Stayers’ Hurdle (3m)

It’s not the best division in all honesty though it’s been made better by the potential participation of YANWORTH who so far is my idea of the winner.  Alan King’s star stepped up to this trip at Aintree last spring and scored ahead of likely favourite Supasundae and I’d back him to hold that one off again after his 2m5f win here in January on bad ground.
Other potential improvers over this trip are Jedd O’Keefe’s Sam Spinner and Penhill of Willie Mullins’ though they perhaps lack a little something and may not get past what I consider to be the big two.


Triumph Hurdle (2m1f)

It’s always difficult to get a handle on the four-year-olds with a sharper rate of improvement to come from them on the big day itself, though after four hurdle races we pretty much know what to expect from strong favourite Apple’s Shakira who also has an engagement in the Supreme Novice’s.
I think that one is vulnerable however to something improving past her with first of all Farclas of Gordon Elliott’s looking overpriced at 9/1 and especially general 8/1 shot MR ADJUDICATOR of the powerful Willie Mullins yard who may take the spoils.  We Have A Dream and Stormy Ireland have place prospects.

Cheltenham Gold Cup (3m2½f)

The big one looks competitive this year despite some high profile absentees with Brian Ellison’s stayer Definitly Red looking great value for a place at a general 16/1.
Last year’s winner Sizing John should go well once more along with Our Duke while it’s easy to see why Might Bite looks like going into this race a strong favourite.  Nicky Henderson’s charge needed a career best to win the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day and has not been seen since, apparently primed for crack at this race and he’ll be tough to beat.
If anything looks like getting past Might Bite it could be NATIVE RIVER of Colin Tizzard’s.  He won at Newbury last year before coming into this race fairly well fancied; only being beaten 2¾ lengths having just lost second close to home.
He won the same Newbury prep race last time out and was at least half a stone better in it than last year, so the improvement he’s shown will hopefully mean he can go on to land the Gold Cup this time around at 5/1 or better.