Matt Tombs / Thursday 27th December 2012 / 17:50
1pt Monksland to win the Christmas Hurdle @ 5/1
1pt Jenari to win the Topaz Novice Chase @ 25/1
1pt Flemenstar to win the Lexus @ 6/4
Arguably the best betting opportunities arise from a favourite who is much shorter than he should be. By default that means some of his opponents will be too big a price and it means you start looking at them objectively. When there’s a horse you fancy before you know the prices, it’s human nature to start finding reasons why he’s good value almost regardless of the price.
The race with the best betting shape on a cracking Friday card at Leopardstown is the Grade 2 hurdle over 3m. It’s pretty much a re-run of the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace over 2m4f (soft,) where Zaidpour beat Monksland (now 2lb better off) 2½l with Voler La Vedette another 1½l away 3rd and So Young (now 4lb better off) another 7½l away 4th. That would seem to leave Zaidpour (11/8) and Monksland (5/1) closely matched but their prices are very different.
3m is a different ball game and watching the Hatton’s Grace again, Monksland was outpaced on the home turn and then stayed on to pass Voler La Vedette on the run in. That suggests he’ll be suited by 3m, as does the way he got tapped for toe coming down the hill in the Neptune. By contrast, the more experienced Zaidpour looks like a 2m4f horse that may be better at 2m than 3m. I was really surprised that there was so much difference between their prices and Monksland is the best bet of the day.
Voler La Vedette (9/2) will clearly be suited by stepping back up to 3m. However, it may be that two hard races against Big Buck’s and Quevega have bottomed her and with breathing issues as well I want to take her on at those odds.
I backed So Young (10/1) in the Hatton’s Grace, but whilst Willie Mullins has always seen him as a stayer, I’d have been tempted to try him at 2m. He’s talented enough to win this as he was going well at Fairyhouse until flattening the second last. I think he’s over priced, but I’m cautious about the trip so I’m passing him over this time.
The 3m novice chase looks a cracking renewal. Back in Focus (7/4) is a worthy favourite as he’s always looked made for this, with 3m ideal. He gave Lyreen Legend (10/1) 1lb and beat him 4l over 2m6f (heavy) at Punchestown last month. The runner-up looked to be going best and then got outstayed so, even on better ground, the extra 2f ought to enable the winner to confirm the form. The ground (officially soft) looked as if yielding should have been in the description yesterday though and this won’t be the test of stamina that would suit Back in Focus ideally unless a lot of rain falls between now and post time. I’m therefore looking for value against him.
Dedigout (7/2) was thrashed by Arvika Ligeonniere in the Drinmore over 2m4f and whilst he looks set to improve for the step up to 3m, he looks very short for a horse who was beaten so easily (seemingly with no excuses) last time. He looks priced up on hype not substance and is one to oppose until he proves it on the course.
Aupcharlie (9/1) is the real unknown quantity of the race. He was 3rd in the Champion Bumper 2 seasons ago but became disappointing as a novice hurdler last season, (often not looking to find much.) He won a weak looking beginners chase impressively at Gowran (2m4f, heavy) and this trip looks set to suit. He has plenty of ability but is the type I’d look to avoid until he’s shown he’s got the stomach for a fight – it’d be a surprise if he could outclass these.
Mount Benbulben (10/1) is another with a big reputation. He was comfortably held by Jenari at Naas over an inadequate 2m and then jumped poorly before falling at Punchestown. He’s since won an ordinary beginner’s chase at Fairyhouse, (extended 2m5f, soft) jumping moderately. He’s a talented performer but he’ll have to jump a lot better than he has done so far to be competitive here, and a Grade 1 may come too soon in his chasing career.
I couldn’t believe Jenari was priced up at 25/1. He beat Mount Benbulben at Naas before jumping badly at Punchestown. He got a confidence booster when ridden quietly behind Oscar’s Well last time and Tony McCoy has chosen him over The Westerner Boy (14/1.) He has to prove he stays this far but his best two performances as a novice hurdler were on the only two occasions he ran over 2½m. He won a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse beating Lyreen Legend (who was giving 5lb) by 4½l and was going well when falling 3 out in the Grade 1 won by Dedigout at Punchestown.
His brother Jezki looks all about speed but his half brother Jetson stays 3m well and, unless a lot of rain falls, the ground may suit him better than some of the others. Of course there’s a chance he won’t stay or that jumping problems will resurface, but hopefully he’ll have time to get himself organized into a rhythm going a yard slower. Interestingly McCoy doesn’t have a ride in the other 2 big races so the fact he’s staying in Ireland may be a tip in itself. He’s at least twice the price he should be and is well worth backing.
Holding 25/1 Gold Cup ante-post vouchers, I’ll be watching Flemenstar (6/4) intently in the Lexus. Whilst an extended 3m2f at championship pace in the Gold Cup is an unknown, it’d be a real surprise if 3m at Lexus pace was too much of a test of stamina, (full brother Barafundle stays beyond 3m and he’s looked to have plenty left at the end of his races over 2½m). He was brilliant again in the Durkan (still apparently short of peak fitness after a minor hold up) and looks a class apart.
Sir Des Champs (3/1) was no match for Flemenstar in the Durkan and I get the impression he’s difficult to train. Willie Mullins is a master at peaking such horses at Cheltenham and I doubt he’ll be hard trained for this. You’d expect the step up to 3m to suit but he’s pretty short to reverse the thumping he got at Punchestown.
Tidal Bay (11/2) brings top British form to the table having been an excellent 2nd off 166 in the Hennessy. Paul Nicholls has worked miracles sweetening the old rogue up but he’s an out and out stayer who needs holding up, so is reliant on a truly run race. He’d have been a threat on desperate ground but I expect some of these to have too much toe for him.
I respect Hidden Cyclone (9/1) who is unexposed and progressive and held in the highest regard. He could make the step up with the race looking likely to suit, but Shark Hanlon’s stable is struggling (only had one other winner in the last 4 months) and this is the first time he’s been pitched in against top chasers so is likely to improve for it.
Flemenstar has looked a brilliant horse so far and this may be the last time we get the chance to back him at odds-against in Ireland so lets get stuck in.
The declarations for the Grade 1 Challow novice hurdle (2m5f) on Saturday aren’t in yet but this race almost always falls to a real stayer. The likes of Fingal Bay, Reve De Sivola, Diamond Harry, Denman and Wichita Lineman won this as embryonic 3 milers whereas fast horses like Finian’s Rainbow and For Non Stop got turned over as favourites.
2m5f on heavy ground is going to take even more getting than usual for inexperienced horses and I’d be against likely favourite Clondaw Kaempfer if he runs. He’s looked a quick horse so far who doesn’t want a slog. Easter Day and Gevrey Chambertin might not be battle hardened enough at this stage and I’ll be interested to see what price Taquin Du Seuil is. He was trying to give the classy My Tent Or Yours 7lb over an inadequate 2m (beaten 1¾l) before bolting up in a heavy ground Grade 2 over 2m4f at Ascot. He looks a Challow type.