Matt Tombs / Monday 10th March 2014 / 16:25
Finally, after all the waiting, the Festival is with us. All the ante-post research, the enjoyment of seeing the shortners, the gnashing of teeth when trainers have different ideas to me about where their horses should run – that’s all done. It’s important to put all that to the back of our minds and focus on a different task – finding winners from the declared runners. Most of all, it’s time to enjoy the greatest week of the year – and we’ve got the best Champion Hurdle I can remember.
We’ve got Jezki (10/1 from 12/1) running for us in the Champion Hurdle, Ted Veale (20/1 from 25/1) in the Arkle and Cockney Sparrow (8/1 from 10/1) in the Mares. Looking at the shape of those markets, with Un De Sceaux not being declared for the Champion Hurdle, I don’t want to play again.
Before looking at the other races, we need to guesstimate the all-important question of the ground. It’s drying out rapidly and Simon Claisse was predicting the word ‘good’ would be somewhere in the description on Monday – the most likely scenario is that he calls it good to soft, (good in places,) on Monday afternoon. Having taken 10/1 about the Festival starting on good ground, it would obviously be a great start to the punting week if that’s what it’s called on Tuesday. Even if its good to soft, (good in places) for the Supreme, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was changed to good later in the day - as occurred in 2010, (and it was changed from soft, to good to soft during Tuesday’s racing in 2007.) It’s about 100/1 that it gets changed to being slower than the original description.
Every year is different and it’s common for the ground to ride differently to the official going and to what is expected. At this stage I’ve got to make a call. It’s been virtually completely dry for a week now and with the drainage at Prestbury Park, and the mild weather, I think it’s going to ride genuinely good ground – not good to soft. The spring in it from the high water table should mean soft ground horses aren’t too inconvenienced, but I’m expecting the times to be quite quick and I think speed horses rather than stayers at the trip will be favoured.
In the Supreme that looks to play into the hands of Irving, (3/1,) rather than Vautour (7/2). Irving is the fast horse in this, was really impressive in the Dovecote, and his Kennel Gate form got a big boost when Splash Of Ginge (28/1) won the Betfair off 134. If I’m right about the ground Irving should take plenty of beating – I can see him bolting up en route to the Champion Hurdle next year. For anyone considering backing him, I wouldn’t put you off with Paddy Power (who go 9/4, but may well go a bigger price in the morning) offering money back if he finishes 2nd, 3rd or 4th – which is probably the single best special offer there’s been at the Festival.
However, the Supreme is a graveyard for short priced favourites with My Tent Or Yours (15/8), Cue Card (7/4), Dunguib (4/5), Cousin Vinny (9/4), Amaretto Rose (2/1) & Sweet Wake (5/2) all getting turned over since Brave Inca won a decade ago at 7/2f. I like Irving’s chances but I think his price is about right in the context of the race. There have been six double figure priced winners in the nine renewals since Brace Inca won, including Ebaziyan at 40/1, and it’s the sort of race this year where I think there could be an upset, so I want a decent price.
The Mullins second string Wicklow Brave (15/2) also looks to have a sound chance. He thrashed Lieutenant Colonel at Punchestown in a listed race last time and the runner up has been well backed into 14/1 for the Neptune. The 3rd Real Steel came out and won a Grade 2 at Naas recently and the form looks strong. Wicklow Brave hasn’t jumped that well so far but he’s been winning on heavy ground over hurdles and prefers this sort of sound surface. He has a solid chance but Ruby has passed him over and the fancy prices have gone now.
One I don’t fancy is Vaniteux (12/1) who is a late addition to the Henderson team, as Chatterbox was last season for the Neptune. Nicky has said that Vaniteux is next year’s horse and he’s worth remembering for then. He made similar comments about the likes of Sprinter Sacre and Finian’s Rainbow before they were beaten in novice hurdles at the Festival.
Gilgamboa (12/1) was a taking winner of the big Boylesports handicap hurdle at Leopardstown off 128. He looks a really good prospect for the future but, like Vaniteux, I’m not convinced how hard trained he’ll be for this, with a novice chasing campaign in mind for next season.
The Liquidator (20/1) was 4th to Briar Hill in the Bumper last season before winning the equivalent at the Punchestown Festival. His first two runs over hurdles were impressive – especially when thrashing 150 rated Sea Lord over course and distance in November. He ran no sort of race when favourite for the Tolworth and there has been a rush to get him here. If he is in top form he has a decent chance and market confidence would be encouraging.
However, the value has to be with Western Boy (20/1) who was just ¾l behind Vautour last time in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer at Punchestown. Given both were ridden out, that alone suggests there is no reason for such a big disparity in their prices. It’s been argued that Vautour was short of peak fitness that day but Rich Ricci was very bullish before that race – it was only afterwards that question marks over fitness were raised. Vautour has obviously really franked the form by beating dual Grade 1 winner The Tullow Tank in the Deloitte.
The Moscow Flyer was on testing ground (officially soft to heavy) and whilst that ought to have suited Vautour, Western Boy will be much better suited by the sound surface he’s going to get here. I doubt there’ll be much between them again but on much better ground its realistic that Western Boy could reverse the form.
Pat Fahy’s yard has had a good season and it looks the classic case of a good horse being underestimated from a small yard. Davy Russell rode him at Punchestown and, at his first Festival since being sacked by Gigginstown, he’ll be even keener to show off his talents with a winner.
1pt Western Boy to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle (1.30) @ 20/1
The other race I want to get involved with is the 4 miler. Given Emma Lavelle said that Shotgun Paddy ran assuming the ground stayed soft but Gullinbursti would if the ground was nearer good – it was bizarre that Gullinbursti wasn’t left in the race last Wednesday. Lavelle might be regretting that now as the ground really looks to have gone against Shotgun Paddy (11/2).
The horse with the Grade 1 form is Foxrock (9/2) who was a good 3rd in the 3m Grade 1 at Leopardstown at Christmas, behind Carlingford Lough and Morning Assembly, and has since won two Grade 2s on bad ground. He has the astute Katie Walsh to keep him out of trouble and whilst he clearly thrives on bad ground, he will probably handle a sound surface better than Shotgun Paddy – hence how their prices have diverged. This does look to be race where form from the season works out now it’s a level weights novice chase.
Shutthefrontdoor (7/2) represents Jonjo O’Neill who has done so well in this race. He looked an out and out stayer over hurdles, (3¼l 4th off 144 in the Pertemps Final as a novice last season.) He’s run in two good novice chases here, just edged out by Le Bec before disappointing behind Sam Winner. He’s had a breathing operation since then and if that’s worked the oracle then he’s right in the mix. However, he’s only had 3 runs, which is the bare minimum for this, and has been off since December, which isn’t ideal. The fancy prices have gone and I think he’s too short now.
It’s not exactly an original bet but I do think Foxrock will take all the beating here. Most of the other form contenders are contesting the RSA and the ground looks to have gone against Shotgun Paddy, so it’s a weaker race than I’d anticipated. Whilst Foxrock likes some dig, he has form on decent ground and he can outclass Shutthefrontdoor – in what could be a repeat of the battle up the hill between Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry four years ago.
1pt Foxrock to win the National Hunt Chase (4.40) @ 9/2