With two major Grade One chases down, The Ladbrokes Trophy and Bet Victor Gold Cup decided and many of the big guns having made their seasonal bow, it’s time to start the countdown to the greatest show on turf, The Cheltenham Festival! Four days of championship deciding top class National Hunt racing, unrivalled with any other race meeting on the planet.
The serious punters will have planned their sick days in advance and make sure their attendance record is spot on for the next month or two, to reduce the guilt come middle of March! From the opening trademark roar of The Sky Bet Novices Hurdle to the final betting scramble of the last handicap on Friday, it’s truly the meeting that matters.
Even from this early stage, the major players for the three big championships, The Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and The Gold Cup, are becoming slightly clearer. We’ll take a look at some of the potential duals for the listed races and see if any ante post value is to be had at this stage. (Warning!! All ante post bets are a high risk proposition at this stage of the season. Although the prices are attractive, horses must participate in the race or else all bets are considered as losing bets, regardless of the reason.).
The biggest prize is the best place to start. Who are the major players now for The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup?
THE TIMICO CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
MIGHT BITE and WHISPER: The Henderson Pair
A fascinating conundrum is gradually taking shape. The result of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury has certainly given Might Bite’s credentials a massive boost. Might Bite has collared Whisper twice including the RSA and Mildmay at Cheltenham and Aintree respectively whilst Whisper ran a career best in the Ladbrokes on Saturday and was unlucky to be beaten by Total Recall in the last 20 yards.
However, the memory of Might Bite almost grinding to a halt up the Cheltenham Hill in the RSA is still fresh and his character was certainly proven with his stirring comeback to win by a nose. His seasonal bow performance against minor rivals at Sandown recently was exemplary and professional. This is a jumping, staying powerhouse and if all things go well for the next month or two, he will be a lot shorter in the betting than he is now.
Ante post wise, this is a delicate punt at 7/1 with Ladbrokes, Betfair, Paddy Power or Coral. Whisper, on the other hand, is already attracting each way support in the ante-post markets and this reliable stayer should be seized upon with modest cash at 20/1 with Betfred NOW!
The reigning champion Sizing John is set to make his seasonal reappearance in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown on 10th December after pulling out of The Betfair Chase and with the current watertight form of Whisper and Might Bite, he will be having the odd sleepless night in his stable. If the ground comes up like a quagmire on 16th March, then he will have most to fear from the ever improving Twiston Davies trained Bristol De Mai. He won the Charlie Hall in good style over stablemate Blaklion but Coneygree and Cue Card now look to be in the twilight of their careers, so nothing too noteworthy on the formbook there. However his 57 length massacre of Cue Card in The Betfair Chase puts Bristol firmly on the map. 12/1 best with Paddy Power, Befair and Boylesports.
Colin Tizzard’s horses are not exactly firing at the moment. Thistlecrack’s disappointing blowout in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last Friday was probably not as bad as it seemed, he did travel well and probably needed the run. But it was a desperately poor performance for such a highly rated chaser and Tizzard will have to get to work if he is to defend his King George title successfully. The Gold Cup seems a long way off for Thistlecrack now especially at 12/1 best with Betfair and Paddy Power.
The Champion Hurdle: Faugheen ready to take on Buveau D’Air!
Willie Mullins will have been delighted with Faugheen’s long, long awaited comeback in The Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown last month. He was sleek over his hurdles, travelled beautifully and looked like he hadn’t been away. Buveau D’Air returned to action in The Fighting Fifth hurdle and wasn’t required to move a muscle but greater tests must be overcome if he is to make Tuesday 13th March anything like a dual with The Machine that is Faugheen.
Betting wise, not much value to be had unsurprisingly. Buveau D’Air is 4/1 best with Sporting Bet whilst the 5/2 for Faugheen that was available immediately after the Morgiana result lasted about as long as a pint of ice cold beer in a sweltering desert. 7/4 best with Betfred.
The Champion Chase: Altior v Douvan. The clash of The Festival
And so to the biggest and most anticipated clash since Denman v Kauto Star. Altior came through the senior ranks impressively last year and justifies current favouritism. But only just. The recent furore surrounding Nicky Henderson’s announcement that Altior would miss his reappearance in the Tingle Creek Chase, due to a needed wind operation, prompted the Seven Barrows handler to hit out at the media over the way the news was announced.
Nevertheless, the emphasis now turns to Douvan who will almost certainly take his place in next week’s Tingle Creek. Douvan is currently best at 3/1 with Ladbrokes, William Hill and Coral whilst Altior leads the market at 7/4 with Betfair and Paddy Power. The improving Fox Norton is a nice each way at Ladbrokes and William Hill for 8/1.
BETTING SUGGESTIONS RECAP:
As mentioned, delving into the ante post market at this stage is fraught with danger but these two each way punts stand out nicely for the three Championship races.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup: WHISPER e/w at 20/1 with Betfred.
The Champion Hurdle: MELON e/w at 14/1 with William Hill and Boylesports.
The Champion Chase: FOX NORTON e/w at 8/1 with Ladbrokes and William Hill.