At long last. The season where we drink Pimms, wear cumbersome top hats and pray that we don’t run into messy hen/stag parties at York and Ascot race meetings has finished! The socially active summer flat season gives way to the serious winter business of National Hunt racing. That glorious six months where our betting slip can maintain excitement for up to ten minutes ( or 20 seconds of course!), where jockeys jubilantly cross the winning line spattered in mud and when we skive off work for four days in March to witness the greatest show on turf in the shape of The Cheltenham Festival, the culmination and final exam of our winter punting endeavours. After last season’s legendary Festival being riddled with fairy tales, unforgettable come-back stories and bookmakers running for cover, this season has big shoes to fill no doubt. However, there are plenty of potential highlights to come. Whether you’re into dynamic hurdling or the pulsating, stomach-churning thrill of long distance chases, we will have all the information you need to be ready to do battle with bookie once more! We’ll take a look at the horses expected to make the mark as well as examining the current Cheltenham Festival anti-post markets to see where the early value lies. Let’s jump off with a look at the established stars of the 3 mile Gold Cup market.
**Warning!! We have some Antipost price quotes for The Cheltenham Festival and other key race markets. Please not that at this stage of the season, these are high risk ventures whereby your stake will be lost if the horse fails to take its place in the race whether that be due to injury, withdrawal or otherwise.**
3 MILES + CHASERS
The big talking point of the long distance chase market is of course the potential superstardom of last year’s staying hurdle champion, Thistlecrack. This is no doubt an exciting prospect over the bigger obstacles. Last season, under a carefully mapped plan by trainer Colin Tizzard, Thistlecrack systematically saw off his rivals impressively in every race, culminating with an imperious 6 length victory in The World Hurdle at the Festival. He’s got bags of stamina, superb cruising speed and is economic at his hurdles: there’s no reason to suggest that this won’t convert to chasing. All eyes will be watching his seasonal re-appearance and chasing debut which is set to take place at Chepstow on Tuesday 25th October, depending on the going. He’s the current anti-post favourite for The Cheltenham Gold Cup in March and can be generally seized at 7/1 (Bet365, Betfred, Coral, and William Hill). Expect that price to disappear if he bolts up at Chepstow next week!
Current champion Don Cossack, according to trainer Gordon Elliot, will be returning late in January 2017 due to the recovery of a pelvic injury sustained in preparations for the Punchestown Gold Cup last April. His credentials as a Gold Cup chaser are well confirmed although many believe Cue Card would have had the beating of him in last March’s Gold Cup had the Colin Tizzard trained popular horse not fallen so dramatically at the third last, just as he looked to be mounting a serious challenge to the leaders. Don Cossack is best priced to retain the The Gold Cup at 10/1 (SkyBet, BetVictor and Stan James)
Cue Card certainly has a point to prove this season and will be no doubt one of the most all time popular winners of The Gold Cup if he can deliver come March. His improvement last season was nothing short of staggering. It’s his cruising speed which I particularly like and as long as he can fine tune his jumping, the fairy tale aficionados will be more than satisfied on Gold Cup Day. He’s being aimed at repeating his King George glory on Boxing Day after which Colin Tizzard will prepare him for another crack at The Gold Cup in March for which he is priced best at 11/1 with Stan James.
Of the rest, Coneygree, the 2014 Gold Cup hero is poised to make a comeback after a season on the side-lines with The Betfair Chase at Haydock or The Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby both on the agenda whilst Vautour’s plan is flexible depending on how he performs in the King George. Willie Mullins is keeping his options open on this exciting mid distance chaser and will make a decision on his Gold Cup appearance as late as possible. Coneygree and Vautour are best priced respectively at 12/1 (most firms) and 8/1 (Bet365, Stan James) for The Gold Cup.
So what about the graduates from last year’s novice chasing pack?
I think the Cheltenham RSA Chase winner, Blaklion from the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard deserves to be respected although he will need to improve to figure prominently amongst the established stars. He is entered for the Hennessey Gold Cup at Newbury on November 26th (14/1 with Bet365, Boylesports) and his performance there will tell us more of where he is in terms of ability.
Another interesting one to keep an eye is the Jonjo O’Neill trained More Of That. He hasn’t been seen since his third to Blaklion in the RSA Chase. It’s worth noting that he beat Annie Power the Champion Hurdler in the 2014 World Hurdle, so he clearly has the ability to stay the Cheltenham 3 miles. He is entered for the Hennessey (25/1 best with Boylesports) and is available at 40/1 with Coral for The Cheltenham Gold Cup.
SPRINTER SACRE vs DOUVAN
The 2 mile campaign is set for a fascinating clash between Sprinter Sacre the established superstar and young pretender, Douvan. Douvan is at surprisingly prohibitive odds of around 4/6 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase and although he was imperious in last year’s Arkle at the Festival, he’s up against one of the greatest of all time in Sprinter Sacre and I find these odds slightly bewildering therefore. This market should be avoided really until we get a chance to see these two together in action. Although Douvan is entered for The Tingle Creek at Sandown in November, it’s unlikely that Willie Mullins will send Douvan over from Ireland until The Festival so his progress over there should be studied intensely. Meanwhile, Sprinter Sacre can be grabbed at an attractive 5/1 with Stan James for The Queen Mother Champion Chase at The Festival and considering that Nicky Henderson has said his star is in good form, this seems exceptionally good value for a modest speculation.
TOP CLASS HURDLERS
The 2 mile hurdle championship campaign was of course thrown into confusion last season with Faugheen’s last minute withdrawal. As we know, Annie Power stepped in for his unfortunate stable mate and romped home under Ruby Walsh to banish the memory of the mare’s horrendous last fence fall in the 2015 Mares Hurdle. However, Faugheen is pencilled to make his much anticipated comeback in the Hatton Grace hurdle at Fairyhouse around early December. Faugheen and Annie Power both share joint favouritism for the Champion Hurdle at around 5/2.
Nonetheless, there are several newcomers who need to be examined in the opening months of the season. Altior, who was mightily impressive in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at this year’s Festival should be avoided in the Champion Hurdle market as he is almost certainly destined for a novice chase campaign (best priced 3/1 for The Arkle with most firms). The same could be said for Yorkhill whilst Apple’s Jade, now training under Gordon Elliot, is expected to have a very prominent hurdling campaign this season after winning The Triumph Hurdle at the last Festival. She is being aimed at The Champion Hurdle and is available at odds of 8/1 generally.
Nicholls & Mullins notebook horses
Willie Mullins will find his County Carlow outfit a little quieter since Gigginstown House Stud, owned by Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary moved their stars over to Gordon Elliot’s team in County Meath. This included the Triumph winner Apple’s Jade and Gold Cup third Don Poli: the 60 remaining horses transferred to various stables. Nevertheless, it still leaves the Irish champion trainer with an envious amount of options. We’ve mentioned the big stars but one of his to look out for is Redhotfillypeppers, being aimed at the Mares Hurdle next March. This former point to pointer looked impressive on her debut last May.
Paul Nicholls is odds on to retain the British trainers championship and he’ll be hoping that Saphir Du Rheu will make some sort of comeback after a lacklustre display last season, whilst his dual King George winning chaser Silviniaco Conti will kick off his campaign at Down Royal for the 3 mile JN Wines Champion Chase on November 5th. However, one for the notebook may well be the 5 year old Orbasa, who has been the subject of positive praise over the summer at the Ditcheat stables. He is being aimed at the BetVictor Gold Cup at The Cheltenham Open Meeting in November.
The Anti-Post Markets
There isn’t too much value to notice at this early stage although the markets for Blaklion and Killutagh Vic in the Newbury Hennessey Gold Cup at the end of November should be monitored closely as these two are expected to have prominent seasons. In the King George (Boxing Day), Thistlecrack has a quote of 14/1 (SkyBet) and if he proves successful over fences at Chepstow next week, expect that price to be snipped. As previously mentioned, the new Nicholls star in the making, Orbasa is entered for the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham next month and can be grabbed at 33/1 with SkyBet and Stan James, well worth a couple of speculative pounds each way!
Good luck with the new season!