Matt Tombs / Thursday 30th January 2014 / 18:10
When even Tom Segal reckons ante-post punting is getting harder, what chance is there for the rest of us? It's true that the enhanced prices on the morning of the race provide fantastic value, and all the extra races mean it's harder to work out which race many horses will go for.
But like any other market, the more people who can form a good view, the more the value gets squeezed out of it. I think the uncertainty over targets creates lots of value for punters who are prepared to do the leg work of working out which horses are likely to run where. The Ryanair is a good example of this, as so few of the market leaders look likely to run.
Favourite Cue Card (6/1) almost certainly goes for the Gold Cup. Al Ferof (7/1) now goes for the Denman, so unless he shows obvious stamina deficiencies he’ll presumably run in the Gold Cup. Benefficient (13/2) is a more likely runner, but with a question mark over Sprinter Sacre and the much more prestigious Champion Chase looking there for the taking otherwise, he's far from certain to line up either.
I think First Lieutenant (11/1) should run in this as, in Cue Card's absence, I reckon he'd be the most likely winner. However, with Sir Des Champs injured, Mouse Morris looks to have got his way and he'll run in the Gold Cup, (unless one of the other Gigginstown runners shines in the Irish Hennessy). Having backed Dynaste (12/1) NRNB for the Gold Cup, I'd be surprised if he ran in this as he looks a stayer, (though the exchanges currently suggest he might.)
Plenty of those at bigger prices look unlikely runners too. Riverside Theatre (16/1) would prefer more of a test of stamina now and isn't suited by the course, so may well bypass the race. Hidden Cyclone (20/1) is being aimed at the Champion Chase. The vibes are that Captain Conan (16/1) has a problem and may not get to the Festival. Menorah (20/1) has had niggly issues and bombed both in the King George and this last year. Sizing Europe (20/1) should be a different proposition on good ground at the Festival but he's 12 now and it's hard to actually see him winning. Wonderful Charm (20/1) goes for the Jewson. Kid Cassidy (25/1) is best over a fast run 2m and would be a doubtful stayer here and Boston Bob (25/1) will surely run over further.
That leaves 10 at shorter than 33/1. There are a few who don't look good enough such as Cantlow (20/1) who was beaten off 148 last time. Rolling Aces (25/1) was getting plenty of weight when taking advantage of Argocat's last fence fall at Down Royal and then was disappointing behind Vino Griego. Last Instalment (25/1) was a high class novice 2 season ago but shaped like a stayer and I doubt is good enough after so many problems. Champion Court (25/1) is nearer to being up to the class but he does look exposed as below Grade 1 standard.
That leaves 6 to concentrate on. The obvious place to start is the two Mullins / Ricci runners. Arvika Ligeonniere (16/1) was a good winner of the Clonmel Oil and John Durkan chases at this sort of trip, but was disappointing when unaccountably held up, back at 2m1f at Christmas. Watching the race he seemed to handle going left handed last time, but perhaps the reason he was held up was that Ruby wasn’t happy with him. The vibes haven’t been great and he’s been very weak on the exchanges for both this and the Champion Chase. He’s one to consider nearer the time, as he’s only 12/1 NRNB.
I’d hoped that Marito might be a fancy price as on the book he has plenty to find, but he’s only 12/1. In the JLT last year he was making ground nicely, in a race where the principals might have gone too quick, when coming down 2 out. On his sole chase outing this season he won a listed contest at Tramore comfortably by 3¼l from Roi Du Mee (who gave 3lb.)
Mullins said afterwards “I’m not sure where he’ll go now as he’s going to be hard to place – he might mix hurdles and fences.” He knows a top class performer and isn’t in the habit of putting punters away. He’s 12/1 NRNB and if he does keep improving enough to line up, he’ll be shorter on the day so I wouldn’t put anyone off. However, given it was effectively a Closutton schooling race, only Willie really knows the value of Marito’s 1½l 2nd to Hurricane Fly in the Morgiana. My hunch is he’ll contest the County Hurdle or Coral Cup if getting in near his Irish mark of 146.
Module (16/1) was a good 4¾l 4th to Benefficient in the JLT last season and has run 2 decent races this term. He was a head 2nd to Somersby in the Haldon off 152 and then a slightly disappointing 9¾l 4th to Riverside Theatre in the Peterborough. He's a lightly raced 7 year old who could easily improve hugely over the next few weeks but that potential improvement is reflected in his price - he does have a lot to find, so I'm passing him over.
Wishfull Thinking (25/1) was a top class novice 3 seasons ago. He’s best at this trip, though for some reason he’s generally been campaigned at 2m. He comes to himself in the spring on good ground and if his breathing issues don’t catch up with him again he could run a big race if lining up. That said, as an 11 year old, he’s probably missed his chance of winning this by contesting the last two Champion Chases instead.
First Lieutenant’s trainer, the canny Mouse Morris, does brilliantly with his small number of Festival runners. In the last 3 years he’s had 9 runners, resulting in First Lieutenant’s Neptune win, four 2nds and one 3rd.
His dark horse for this is Rathlin (25/1) who completed a hat-trick over the summer, culminating in thumping Hidden Cyclone by 6l at Galway, (2m6f, good,) which looks good now. He had a break as he doesn’t like testing ground and blew the cobwebs away with a run over hurdles the other day. He hasn’t run in top races yet, and it’s possible that he was flattered at Galway as Hidden Cyclone was returning from a 5 month break. He has the advantage of not being entered for either the Champion Chase or the Gold Cup but, being owned by Gigginstown, there’s always some uncertainty over his plans.
The one to back is Baily Green (25/1) who was an excellent 2¼l 2nd to Simonsig in last season’s Arkle, the pair a mile clear. Having been on the go a long time before last year’s Arkle, he’s looked much more the typical Mouse Morris horse this season – one that’ll peak at the Festival, especially if the ground is decent. He shapes like this sort of trip suits best now and on that Arkle run he should be half his current price.
He started this campaign with a decent 1¼l 2nd to Sizing Europe, (who gave 2lb,) over 2m4f in early October. He didn’t appear again until Christmas and apparently badly needed the run when 30l 5th to Benefficient in a Grade 1 over 2m1f. He then got within ¾l of Texas Jack in the Kinloch Brae over 2m4f. Given he won’t have been near his peak yet this season, that reads pretty well.
The problem is that if Sprinter Sacre misses the Champion Chase, Morris has said he may run in that. Often in this situation I’d hold fire and see how things develop – as and when Sprinter Sacre got the green light, I’d back Baily Green for this.
However, with Cue Card, Al Ferof, First Lieutenant and perhaps Dynaste likely to run in the Gold Cup, and Benefficient a possible for the Champion Chase, I want to get involved now before the prices collapse. That risk is magnified as Baily Green is entered at the weekend and, whilst I don’t expect him to be near his peak, if he wins his Festival prices will tumble.
Bet 365 are 20/1 NRNB. It’s often a cat and mouse game working out whether the better value is ante-post or NRNB, win or each-way. If Sprinter Sacre doesn’t run, with Simonsig already out of the way, I think Baily Green probably will switch to the Champion Chase. I think it’s therefore worth sacrificing 19% of the price to guarantee a run, but I wouldn’t put anyone off taking the 25/1 ante-post.
There were only 8 runners last season and looking at the 43 entries this year my guess is there won’t be many more this time. The NRNB terms are 1/4 for the first 3 places so if there is going to be a small field and we’ve got a run, it must make sense to back him each-way, especially given Morris’ Festival record.
1pt e/w Baily Green in the Ryanair Chase @ 20/1 NRNB