Matt Tombs / Friday 25th January 2013 / 17:35
1pt Walkon to win the Cleeve Hurdle (Cheltenham 3.35) @ 11/1
1pt Coneygree to win the Neptune Novice Hurdle (Cheltenham 3.00) at 3/1
Excellent cards at Cheltenham and Leopardstown look set to beat the weather tomorrow but frustratingly the best bet hasn’t, with Bob’s Worth scoping badly and missing the Argento Chase. I was itching to taking him on at likely odds-on on soft ground, with Nicky Henderson sure not to have been too hard on him for this prep race. Tidal Bay loves bad ground and even over a furlong shorter than the Hennessy trip, he’d looked value at around 3/1 to reverse the Hennessy form on 2lb better terms. However Tidal Bay has had pus in his foot and may or may not run, and as I can make a case for and against just about everything left in the race, it’s one to leave alone now.
The Cleeve Hurdle is a fascinating renewal, which revolves around whether Oscar Whisky (13/8) gets 3m or not. He’s the best horse in the race and if it was over the old 2m5f distance then he’d be entitled to be odds-on. Nicky Henderson was clear he saw him as a non-stayer last season saying “It was obvious he didn’t stay [in the World Hurdle], he was quite wobbly afterwards and he came in very, very tired.” Even before Big Buck’s injury he looked to be reassessing that view and is now convinced Oscar Whisky wasn’t right on the day and is worth another try at the trip. I wouldn’t argue with giving it another go, but on testing ground I have serious doubts about him getting home. Whilst I’d like to see him win, he’s one to take on at 13/8 with no reason to expect a crawl with the likes of Knockara Beau and Carruthers running.
If the ground had been better Crack Away Jack (16/1) would have been interesting but he doesn’t look to like testing going and I doubt he’ll get the trip in it. Paul Nicholls is trying to do a Big Buck’s with Kauto Stone (13/2) who won the 3m Grade 1 at Down Royal over fences before being well beaten in the King George. He has the ability for this but has been best fresh in the autumn so far and has plenty of questions to answer.
That looks to leave Reve De Sivola and Walkon as the two to concentrate on. There seems to be a view that Reve De Sivola’s Long Walk win was either a fluke or he was hugely flattered by Smad Place and Trustan Times not running their races. I think he got the run of the race to some extent but it didn’t look like a fluke to me and he has by far the best 3m hurdles form so 5/2 looks big.
The fly in the ointment though is Walkon (10/1) who’s not easy to assess. He’s run two good races to finish 2nd in the two big 2½m handicap chases at Cheltenham, (now rated 148 over fences.) He’s 5lb higher over hurdles and in receipt of 8lb from the market leaders that brings him into it. He’ll love the ground and my hunch is he will get the 3m.
I think Reve De Sivola is the most likely winner but Walkon is far too big a price in receipt of 8lb. It’s not clear what his ideal trip is but it might be around 3m and he has little to find on official ratings. He’s definitely the value here.
The 2m5f Grade 2 novice hurdle is intriguing even though there are only 5 runners. Although technically a trial for the Neptune it tends to be much more of a test of stamina - Bobs Worth beat Rock On Ruby in 2011 and Restless Harry beat General Miller the previous year. On the ground it’ll take some getting and stamina rather than class might again be at a premium.
The New One is favourite for the Neptune itself so almost inevitably has been chalked up favourite for this but I think is well worth taking on at likely odds-on. He has a good engine but his jumping is an issue and I’m still open-minded about his trip. It may be that he’s a stayer and this will suit but he faces some opponents who are proven at 3m and with Coneygree sure to make it a test I think he’s vulnerable. I’m not a follower of collateral lines of form because they ignore too many imponderables but it’s worth noting that he has a lot to find with Coneygree on a line through Village Vic.
With the favourite looking likely to be an opposable odds-on shot, there ought to be value elsewhere. Coneygree is the obvious one, being joint favourite for the Albert Bartlett having slammed a decent field over 2m5f here in November, (soft) and then won what might have been an ordinary Grade 2 here over 3m on heavy ground in December. He’s very much an out and out galloper but this could well be a slog and he’s an uncomplicated ride from the front – he’ll be hard to pass.
Whisper is unbeaten having won a bumper and a novice hurdle and could be anything. It’s interesting Nicky Henderson elected to run him out of a strong looking entry that included 5 year old Utopie Des Bordes who beat Fago in a Grade 1 chase in France in November. Whisper ended up a convincing enough winner of his only hurdle race by 6l at Ffos Las (2m4f, heavy) and is open to plenty of improvement, but that effort didn’t scream Grade 1 class. If you want to have a bet in this race you have to accept he’s an unknown quantity but he’s liable to trade too short given connections.
At Fishers Cross is another with plenty of stamina having beaten a useful looking Willie Mullins horse off 131 in a 3m handicap here last month, (heavy.) He’s up to 145 now and clearly has a chance but doesn’t look to have the potential star quality of the others.
Early prices go The New One at 10/11 with Coneygree 3/1, and at those odds clear preference is for Coneygree who looks to be underestimated for his small stable. Whilst outsider Fiddlers Bid may keep him company for a while, he should have it is own way out in front for the last mile and with stamina proven, he can pour it on and put The New One’s jumping under pressure.
Over at Leopardstown the Grade 1 Arkle novice chase has been moved forward from Sunday due to concerns about the chase track, so it could be more testing than the current description, (soft). I was surprised how much rope Arvika Ligeonniere (8/13) was given over course and distance at Christmas. He looked a class horse on the upgrade when readily beating Oscars Well by 2l but he jumped right there and you never know whether that will get better or worse second time around. He acts on any ground but the suspicion is he’s best on a sound surface whereas Oscars Well (2/1) goes well on testing ground and with more positive tactics, I can see him reversing the form. However, I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so and he’s not much shorter than 2/1 in my tissue so I’m waiting to see if there is a better price in the morning.