Matt Tombs / Monday 9th March 2015 / 15:27
It’s been a good couple of days betting-wise and at times like this its important not to think you’ve got the game cracked – and start making all sorts of wild bets. To ensure I don’t get ahead of myself I keep repeating this column's overall record on the Thursday of the Festival over the last 3 years – 0/17. So the theme is must-do-better.
Probably the most unusual bet that’s ever been put up in this column might just turn in a winner. A few weeks ago I put up the Fred Winter to provide the longest price SP winner of the week – at 20/1. I’ve obviously little idea where the biggest surprise will come from this week, but a four year olds handicap hurdle is as likely a place as any. At the start of the week the price had shortened to 10/1 and it ought to be a good bit shorter today after Qualando won at 25/1, the longest SP so far. That will add an extra element of fun into the other races, but the reality is that it's a long time since there was a Festival without a winner at 33/1 or bigger, so I'm not holding my breath. With notoriously unpredictable races like the Plate and Kim Muir today, I’ll be cheering home the short priced horses in races where I haven’t had a bet.
The good news for today is that we’ve got a nice shortner in the opening race, the JLT. Apache Stronghold is in from 16/1 to 11/2 and the vibes are really strong about him. It’s a crack field he faces with the likes of Vautour, Ptit Zig and Valseur Lido lining up, but I’m hopeful he’s up to the task. The other main players look to be about the right prices, so I don’t want to play again.
Similarly, in the World Hurdle, Un Temps Pour Tout is 12/1 from 20/1 and I think his Cleeve conqueror Saphir Du Rheu (6/1) is the one he has to beat. I was tempted to save on Saphir Du Rheu, but I’ve also got Whisper (12/1 from 20/1) in the portfolio so I’m going to let it run, as the vibes for Nicky Henderson's horse have got better as the race has got closer.
The big race today where we haven’t got a bet is the Ryanair Chase, as my 25/1 ante-post fancy Caid Du Berlais lines up in the Plate instead. He was slightly in no mans land on 151, but he hadn’t progressed as I’d hoped after his Paddy Power win and I can’t believe he’d have won this anyway.
Looking at the race afresh, the one I want to take on is Balder Succes (8/1). This has proved a real test of stamina at the trip. All the 7 winners since it became a Grade 1 had previously contested a King George – it isn’t a race for 2milers stepping up in trip. I don’t doubt his ability but I don’t think Balder Succes will get home, (and he has a lesser negative of having been on the floor all 3 times he’s run at Cheltenham.)
I’ve really warmed to Don Cossack (9/2) this season and am struggling to work out how I’ve never got round to backing him over the winter. The problem is that he’s a short price now and everything he’s beaten seemed to have an excuse on the day – so I’m starting to wonder if his form, and therefore price, flatters him. I talked myself out of backing the horse I’d liked all winter in this 3 years ago, only for Riverside Theatre to win. Hopefully history won’t repeat itself.
Foxrock (9/1) is a fascinating late addition. He won a big handicap at Leopardstown over this trip off 149 and then was a close 2nd to Carlingford Lough in the Irish Hennessy. That puts him right in this but there is just the feeling Ted Walsh sees him as a Gold Cup contender for next season, rather than a horse hard trained for this.
Eduard (18/1) came out the best horse at the weights when trying to give 6lb to Many Clouds in October. He was then a good 1½l 2nd to Wishfull Thinking in the Peterborough. He looked a really progressive 2nd season chaser and I had backing him for this in mind. He’s been off the track since though and hasn’t run beyond 2m4½f as yet. I think he’s talented enough but this might come a year too soon for the 7 year old.
I’m therefore going back to Ma Filleule (6/1) who was just about my horse to follow for the season back at the end of the summer. I’ve missed the fancy prices, as I still think she should be having a crack at the Gold Cup. However, she ran a blinder here when 1¾l 2nd to Holywell in the extended 3m handicap chase here last season, receiving just 2lb before claims are considered, (would probably have won had her 5lb claimer not lost his irons after a mistake 2 out,) before routing the Topham field off 150.
She was apparently badly in need of the run when well beaten in the Down Royal Grade 1 at the start of the season. She then ran in one of the farcical no-fence races, (hardly ideal for one of the best jumpers of a fence around,) and was 1½l 3rd to Sam Winner. She wasn’t race fit last time but ran a lovely trial when 3¼l 2nd to Balder Succes in the Ascot Chase on her prep run.
Everyone seems to think she’ll come on a lot for that run and turn the form round and I agree. She jumps, stays, has a touch of class – and seems at her best in the spring. This has been a good race for horses at the front of the market, (8 of the 10 winners have been from the front 2 in the market.) Getting the 7lb mares allowance I think she’ll be too good for these.
However, I cant let Ballycasey (28/1) go unbacked at the prices either. He scoped badly when bombing behind Balder Succes in the Ascot Chase last time, but until then he had an excellent record at intermediate trips. He beat Don Cossack easily in the big 2m5f Grade 1 novice chase at Leopardstown 13 months ago and looked all set to win the Grade 1 at Fairyhouse in April when tipping up. It was an ordinary event over 2m4f he won at Gowran in November but he did it well and on his other runs he's been tried at 2m and 3m+, neither of which suit.
Whether he's a horse who will ever fulfil his potential I don't know, but he's as able as any of these and he's a silly price, so it makes sense to save on him.
1pt Ma Filleule to win the Ryanair Chase @ 11/2
1pt Ballycasey to win the Ryanair Chase @ 28/1
In the Kim Muir Gold Bullet (11/1) is really interesting. He won a beginners at the start of last season and then after a break he shaped really well on his 2nd run back last time. Jockey booking are crucial in these amateur races and having the top rider in Derek O'Connor on board is a huge plus. He's challenging for favouritism now though and I think most of the value has gone.
Instead I'm getting some handicap chase action in the 2m5f Plate. There are a few I like in this and Caid Du Berlais (14/1) has to be one of them, having tipped him for the Ryanair back in the autumn. He's been a bit disappointing since then though and is in here off 151, 4lb higher than any conventional handicap chase has been won off at the Festival this century, so I'm reluctantly passing him over.
I'd been watching Monetaire (7/1) since the autumn after two eye-catching runs at around 2m. That form looks strong and he's nicely in off 138 - he could easily provide connections with an incredible treble in the race after Salut Flo and Ballynagour, but everyone has had the same idea and the value has gone given how unpredictable a race this is. Similar comments apply to talented novice Un Ace (9/1) who looks a cracking prospect but has been well found in the market now.
If I have a bet in this race it's generally at a price and I want to take a chance on Irish novice Rawnaq (28/1). He was a classy hurdler, finishing a close 3rd in the Greatwood last season off 138. He bolted up on his chasing debut and was then under the weather when beaten at Cork in October. He was given a good long break before springing a surprise when beating Gilgamboa in a Grade 2 novice at Navan over 2m1f last month.
There was a lot of debate afterwards about how running into the Un De Sceaux juggernaut had taken the edge off Gilgamboa, but whilst that was true to an extent, I think he was meeting a talented horse too. The Irish novice chase form looks red hot and I think he's been hugely underestimated for his small yard. It's his first taste of handicap company over fences, but if his jumping stands the test he could be chucked in here off 141.
1pt Rawnaq to win the Festival Plate @ 28/1