Matt Tombs / Monday 11th March 2013 / 18:00
1pt Taquin Du Seuil to win the Neptune @ 6/1
Whilst there’s nothing like the anticipation on the opening day of the Festival, Wednesday usually has the best racing and any day you get to see Sprinter Sacre run is a good one. The big advantage of today's card is we know roughly what the ground's going to be like. It's a bit dead and whilst with the covers on overnight it won't be drying quickly, if anything it's likely to ride a bit better than on the first day. That's crucial as we're not looking for mudlarks or horses who are effective at further than the race distance, as looked likely before the meeting started. Hopefully you'll have held fire yesterday until after the Supreme and having seen the ground was decent, have backed some horses who liked the surface.
Today we don't want fast ground horses but we don't want mudlarks either. In the big race, the Champion Chase, the ground very likely makes no difference at all. It’s rare to see a horse as brilliant as Sprinter Sacre and the most important thing with a horse that good is just to enjoy him. Backing something else that you don’t think has any sort of real chance just dilutes that enjoyment. By far the best offer of the week for small stakes punters is Coral’s £20 evens Sprinter Sacre so for those not already on, make that your bet of the day.
Finian’s Rainbow had looked a great bet at 11/2 in the betting without Sprinter Sacre market, but he wasn’t declared on Monday morning, even before anyone knew how the ground was riding. The ground may ride on the decent side today and connections could have waited for the 4 miler and then made a call. If Sprinter Sacre doesn’t perform then they may have missed another Champion Chase. On the bright side we can watch the race just focusing on Sprinter Sacre not what’s going on behind him.
The other bet I’ve had on this race is on Sprinter Sacre’s SP – 3/1 that it’ll be 4/11 or longer. With Flemenstar, Finian’s Rainbow, Cue Card, William’s Wishes and Kumbeshwar all missing the race, the circumstances have really gone against us. Provided Finian’s Rainbow had lined up then we’d have probably collected but again the ground has scuppered what looked a great ante-post bet. He was 30/100 on Tuesday evening so ŵe need a real plunge for something else tomorrow if he's to drift to 4/11.
We kick off with the 4 miler and I’m sticking with Rival D’Estruval (now 6/1 from 8/1) with the top man Derek O’Connor on board. It’s hard to over-emphasise the importance of backing a horse with a quality jockey in these amateur rider races. 4m and 25 fences give a lot of opportunities for the less good jockeys to make a mess of things.
With Harry Topper, Boston Bob and Lyreen Legend out of the way, the one class horse opposing him is Back In Focus (3/1). He's the class act in this as he's unbeaten over fences and is a Grade 1 winner. He's a horse for whom the ground is hugely important. If there's plenty of give then he'll take all the beating. If it's dried out to genuine good to soft, then he may be vulnerable. Back In Focus' jockey Patrick Mullins has shown his quality riding in bumpers, riding over 170 winners in the last 5 seasons from more than 500 rides. He’s much less experienced over fences though, having just a handful of winners from well under 100 rides.
Back In Focus is a worthy favourite, but I’ve got Rival D’Estruval clear 2nd best and I’m happy with the bet. The one I’d be looking to oppose is Buddy Bolero (9/2) who has only run in 2 chases and 5 races in all. Experience has been at a premium in this race and this is a big ask for such an inexperienced horse. He’s the classic type not to get round.
Given how fast a horse is generally needed for the Neptune on the prevailing good ground, cracking prospects Pont Alexandre (6/4), Taquin Du Seuil (11/2,) and Rule The World (6/1) looked worth taking on. This race usually has lots of depth but like many of the novice races has cut up this year and with the ground still slow enough it's probable that one of the 3 will win.
The only obvious one to take them on with on speed grounds is The New One (5/1). The obvious concern is that there has been a bug in the Twiston-Davies yard which has led to some high profile withdrawals. However, Ackertac ran a blinder to be 2nd at 66/1 in the last yesterday which gives a boost to The New One's chances. If the ground was genuinely good then it'd be tempting as he has plenty of toe in what might turn out to be race full of stayers. However I'm not mad about his form at Cheltenham as he's looked better elsewhere and his price hasn't really drifted to take into account the risk he's got the stable bug.
I’m opposing Rule The World as I think this might be a year early for Festival glory. He’s seen as an immature type and I always like opposing horses in novice hurdles who have good enough form to make them a short price, but I don’t think will be streetwise enough at the business end.
At the prices clear preference is for Taquin Du Seuil who looked a really good horse when bolting up in the Challow from a good field. He stayed really well that day and if ever the hoodoo of Challow winners turning up in this is going to get broken it ought to be today with the ground riding slower than usual and a field lacking depth against him. I'd been concerned that he might get done for toe in this, but the more I look at the field, the harder I'm finding it to see the speed horse that's going to beat him.
Pont Alexandre is the obvious danger and the vibes from the Mullins team could hardly be stronger for this horse. The only concern is that he is seen as an embryonic Gold Cup horse – they were comparing him to Denman, who got turned over in this at 11/10. I’m not that taken with his form – I don’t think its any better than Taquin Du Seuil’s and making all here is hard, for all Ruby did it yesterday on Champagne Fever. You have to respect such shrewd connections confidence but after three Walsh/Mullins winners yesterday, he's 6/4 as opposed to Taquin Du Seuil’s 6/1 - so there’s only one horse to back
1pt Taquin Du Seuil to win the Neptune @ 6/1
Anyone betting ante-post on the Festival weeks or months in advance has to be prepared to suffer plenty of non runners. I’m usually sanguine about it as my style of betting means I have to expect plenty – but I’m making an exception with Rocky Creek. He really should be running in this as he has the ideal credentials – he jumps, travels, has a decent amount of experience over fences and stays. He’s not a quickener but this race is rarely won by one and he doesn’t look to have the pace for the Gold Cup next year, so this looked his best chance of Festival glory. He’s in the hands of ultra shrewd connections so you have to respect their decision but I’m doing so through gnashed teeth.
At least we’ve got a shortner running for us in Lyreen Legend who is 11/1 from 16/1. The more I look at the race with Dynaste out of the way, the worse a race it seems and given that in about 1 renewal in 2 you get a double figure priced winner anyway, I’d give any decent staying novice a realistic chance in what is going to be a slog.
Boston Bob (7/2) has had only two runs over fences and whilst Willie Mullins was the last trainer to win this with such an inexperienced horse, (Florida Pearl 15 years ago), you just get the feeling Boston Bob’s not in the same form as last season. He may not have enjoyed the track last year and has a lot of question marks to be so short in such a tough race.
Ruby has passed Boston Bob over for Unioniste (7/2) who is an improving 5 year old, but is another with question marks. His win in the open handicap at Cheltenham in December effectively came off 131 and his stamina looked to be ebbing away to me when nearly collared by Hadrian’s Approach last time having looked set to win comfortably. He’ll be much fitter now, but he gets only 2lb weight for age now and it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t finish.
I’d be really keen to oppose Goulanes (15/2) who’s had just 1 run over regulation fences and 5 in all, (including 2 points). This might be a poor renewal but it’d be astonishing if a horse with that profile wins it. He’s another I fancy not to complete and so laying for a place is an option.
Given that virtually any of them could win here, laying those at the front of the market and backing realistic outsiders is the logical way to approach the race. I was tempted to back Houblon Des Obeaux as well as he has loads of experience (6 chases, 5 in graded races) and he stays really well. The only thing is that he doesn’t jump that well and whatever wins is going to have to put in a good round in the ground here. I've missed the value as he's into 12/1 now and the right call is to rely on Lyreen Legend.