Matt Tombs / Wednesday 6th March 2013 / 13:25
I’m not a big layer of horses as I much prefer the buzz of picking winners, but inevitably at the Festival there are some short ones you really don't fancy. For those who do like laying on the exchanges, here are 4 to consider:
Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle (9/4 - currently 3.75 to lay)
I'm actually a huge Hurricane Fly fan and think he's the best 2m hurdler we've seen since Istabraq. He's 9 now though and only Comedy of Errors has regained the Champion Hurdle, (and he was a year younger when getting the title back.)
I'm not sure the course suits as he's looked better at Leopardstown and Punchestown and in particular I'm not convinced he likes all the hullaballoo that goes on at the Festival. The year he won he seemed to take it reasonably, but last year he got really buzzy, sweated up and Ruby had his feet out of the irons at the start. Even on a foul day at Leopardstown in the Irish Champion Hurdle in January he got really sweaty and I think he could run his race in the preliminaries.
If he faced an ordinary field then I'd be less keen to take him on, but Rock On Ruby, Grandouet and Zarkander are all leading contenders and the likes of Cinders And Ashes and old Binocular have a shout. If the ground came up soft Oscar Whisky would be a danger to all. That's a lot of feasible winners to be taking Hurricane Fly on with.
The problem is everyone else has had the same idea and he’s half a point longer than last week. The smart play is to wait until the day (when he may be shorter) and see how he is at the start – if he gets buzzed up again then he’s a good lay at 11/4 or shorter.
Unioniste for a place in the RSA Chase (8/1 to win - currently 2.86 to lay)
The RSA is arguably the toughest race of the Festival and I'm convinced Unioniste is the wrong type. The sort you need is a horse that can hold a position on good ground, jump well and keep galloping - the race is no place for inexperienced horses or suspect stayers. Having run in 5 chases, Unioniste has the right sort of level of chasing experience and jumps well, so he ticks a couple of boxes.
However, I’ve big concerns about trip and ground. Unioniste has only once run over further than 2m5f, when looking set for a comfortable success from Hadrian's Approach at Newbury before tiring late on and all out to win by a short head, (3m, soft.) I thought that was a poor trial as Nicky Henderson has been lukewarm about Hadrian’s Approach being good enough for the RSA and Unioniste was all out to finish less than 4l ahead of 137 rated Same Difference, who's a 66/1 shot for this.
He’s clearly improved since, but he made quite hard work of winning an average 2m4f novice chase at Aintree on good ground by 1½l in October and was brushed aside the following month at Cheltenham by Dynaste and Fingal Bay, (extended 2m4f, good to soft.) It was only on heavy ground that he’s started to shine, impressively winning the big handicap at the course in December. The problem is that he may not be as effective on good ground, but may not get home on soft.
Whilst Star De Mohaison won as a 5 year old, he got a whopping 10lb and Unioniste gets only 2lb so he's really trying to rewrite history. Crucially, given how bright a future he has, he won't be knocked about if he isn't going to win, so the right call is to lay him for a place.
With rain around the fact Paul Nicholls said he’d get switched to the Jewson if it came up soft, means you may not even have to give a run for the backer’s money. That all looks to make him a cracking lay for a place now. If you’re convinced he will run, then with such small fields for the novice chases these days he’s likely to be shorter on the day.
Captain Conan for a place in the Jewson (9/2 to win, 2.38 to lay for a place)
The Jewson is a tricky race as relatively few horses are actively targeted at it - it's often a consolation race for those not deemed good enough to go for the Arkle or RSA, or where connections are trying to keep their best novice chasers apart.
It’s a new race so we don't yet know what type is needed but the 2 Jewson winners so far, Sir Des Champs and Noble Prince, both have strong form over 3m and the equivalent race in open company, the Ryanair, tends to fall to a stout stayer at 2m5f.
The obvious concern for Captain Conan is that he won't get the trip, but I don’t think he’s that good either. Nicky Henderson described him as a 2 miler earlier in the season and he's clearly only running in this as Simonsig is a hot favourite for the Arkle. Over hurdles last season he got outstayed close home by Tap Night over 2m2f at Kelso, (good,) and bombed on his other try over 2¼m at Leopardstown.
This season he won his first two chases over 2m, beating Sire De Grugy 2l at Cheltenham, (soft,) with Third Intention another 6l away 3rd. He then beat Hinterland (who received 6lb) at Sandown with Third Intention again 3rd, beaten the exact same 8l in total. To put that form in context, Hinterland was then beaten 35l by Simonsig when getting 11lb.
Captain Conan was stepped up to an extended 2m4f at Sandown, (heavy,) and met Third Intention again, beating him only a neck with the runner up stopping on the run in. I don't subscribe to the theory this marks him out as a stayer. I think it marked him out as below the top class novices and a horse that, judging by where he finishes against Third Intention, is better at 2m. The jury’s out whether he gets this trip.
I wouldn't totally rule our connections running him in the Arkle (especially if the ground comes up soft and/or Dynaste runs in the Jewson not RSA,) and he’ll almost certainly switch if anything happens to Simonsig. So, similarly to Unioniste, there's a chance you may not even have to give a run to get the backer’s money. Equally, if you leave it until after the declaration stage, I can see him odds-on for a place against a small field, but there'll still probably be 3 or 4 with form as good as his, even if it wasn't in Grade 1s. When to get involved is a matter of personal punting style, but either way I fancy him to be out of the frame unless the race cuts up completely.
Peddlers Cross for a place in the World Hurdle (10/1 to win, currently 3.65 to lay for a place.)
Peddlers Cross was a top class horse two seasons ago, only losing his unbeaten record when a close 2nd to Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle. His chasing campaign started brightly with 2 wins at Bangor where he jumped really well and looked like transferring that top class ability to chasing.
Something then went badly wrong. Whilst it was obviously no disgrace he couldn't give Sprinter Sacre a race at Kempton, he never travelled or got into the race. He did belt the first but with the benefit of hindsight I wonder if that was our first view of a horse with a problem. He then bombed in the Jewson, again never travelling in a race against much slower horses than he was used to competing against. Donald McCain put it down to not having the scope for fences but this is an ex-pointer who looked to relish the task in his first two chases.
He was off 10 months and returned in a jumper’s bumper where he was beaten at levels by a horse rated 25lb below him over hurdles. On his only run over obstacles this season at Musselburgh, he was stepped up to 2¾m for the first time. He officially had 2 stone in hand but was made to work pretty hard to win, again not looking the horse he was and the runner up was beaten 20l off 130 at the weekend.
The step up to 3m doesn't look likely to suit - all the time he was running in his pomp between 2 and 2½m, all his best form was at 2m. The likes of Reve De Sivola and, if he runs Bog Warrior, are likely to ensure this isn't a sprint and I expect Peddlers Cross to be in real trouble by the time they turn into the straight.
The place market doesn’t have much liquidity yet and I’d expect him to be closer to 3 on the day so, whilst I’d be prepared to lay him at his current price given his chance, it makes sense to go in closer to the race.