Matt Tombs / Friday 15th November 2013 / 14:25
1pt Balthazar King to win Cheltenham 3.15 & Festival Cross Country @ 33/1
1pt Cash And Go to win the Greatwood Hurdle @ 13/2
I’ve always dismissed the Cross Country races at Cheltenham as not being proper racing. It was only my recent trip to the Velka Pardubicka in Czech, which is a very different sort of cross-country race, that made me start thinking about Cheltenham’s version. Being new to this discipline, this might turn out to be naïvity but it does seem that the course is so tight that nimbleness and sprinting off the usual crawl are the criteria – rather than jumping ability or class. See here. That looks to be why the same horses can keep winning almost regardless of the weights. Ground conditions vary hugely as they cannot water much of the cross-country course and on good ground Balthazar King is lethal.
It’s hard to understand how he’s as big as 15/8 today, but even more tempting is the 33/1 for him to win this and the equivalent race at the Festival. In other words, if he wins today he’s a double figure price for the Festival equivalent. Only bet365 have priced up the Festival race (he’s 10/1) but even so, its unusual to be able to back this sort of double at bigger than the best combined prices on the two races.
It’s a concern that Philip Hobbs is also aiming him at the National and then a big cross country race in France in May - so it’s possible he might not be peaking at the Festival. He is also ground dependent so if we get a wet run up to the Festival his chances will be compromised. That said, 33/1 looks huge so it’s time to put profits over prejudice and back him.
It’s a shame that connections of Jezki have decided that 2m4f on what is usually bottomless ground in the Hatton’s Grace is the right next step, rather than the Morgiana – which is a bit of a non event now. There’s still a cracking event over timber this weekend though, in shape of the Greatwood Hurdle. It’s grown in stature in recent years and now, like the Paddy Power, is often a springboard for open Grade 1 performers in the making. It’s not uncommon to find them well down the handicap - Rooster Booster, Sizing Europe, Detroit City, Khyber Kim and Menorah have all won this in recent years off marks ranging from 137 to 155.
Inevitably there are plenty of unexposed horses in this so it’s not a race to be dogmatic about. However, Cash And Go looks really well handicapped based on his Grade 1 win as a novice and his 2nd in this last year on unsuitably soft ground. He unseated in the Ladbroke, got stuck in the mud in the Betfair and didn’t stay the Coral Cup trip – so nothing went right after that. He’s reportedly strengthened up considerably and the normally reserved Nicky Henderson has been really bullish about his chances. In his stable tour in the Racing Post this week he said that “he isn’t far off top class but we could always switch him to fences if was not going to be a Grade 1 horse over hurdles.” A top class hurdler will be rated in the 170s and to win a Grade 1 a horse will normally need to at least be in the 160s so he’s potentially chucked in here off 141 – particularly as he looks like getting his favoured sound surface for the first time since joining the yard.
As you’d expect there are plenty of unexposed and talented types in this such as Pine Creek, Sametegal and Court Minstrel. It’s possible one of them could be even better handicapped than Cash And Go, but he sets a high bar and it wouldn’t astonish me if he hacked up. Although I rarely back favourites in handicap hurdles, I think he’s a big price given how much he may have in hand – I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go off much shorter.
The other race in open company that I’m looking forward to is the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham on Sunday over 2m. Sire De Grugy is on a roll after beating Finian’s Rainbow at Sandown and then bolting up off 161 on his reappearance. The fascinating runner here is Kid Cassidy who is very headstrong but equally talented, and gets 10lb here. The problem with backing him is that you don’t know whether he’s going to be campaigned to see if he’s a Grade 1 horse or whether a 3rd crack at the Grand Annual is the plan. It looks a classic bet in-running race.
There will be some bubbles burst in the novice ranks this weekend. We don’t have prices at this stage so we’ll have to wait to see where the value lies but there’s a huge amount to look forward to. If I was going to guess the novice race I’ll have a bet on this weekend, it would be the Grade 2 novice chase over 2m at Cheltenham on Sunday. Many will look at the conditions and see 157 rated hurdler Raya Star and 154 rated hurdler Dodging Bullets getting in without a penalty for their wins on debut over fences, and look no further. I’m not convinced either will make as good chasers as hurdlers and am hoping Ted Veale will go off an attractive price. Trip and ground are ideal and this could be the first stepping stone towards the Arkle.
2m chases are the most specialist division and, whilst its disappointing that Jezki’s absence at Punchestown means AP MCoy goes to Cheltenham, I think Defy Logic will have too much toe for Felix Yonger in the Craddockstown on Sunday. The other Grade 2 novice chase at Punchestown is the Florida Pearl over 2m6f. It’ll be interesting to see how hype horse Don Cossack is priced up but in a cracking five runner race I fancy Morning Assembly who impressed when beating two of these here over 2f shorter last month. This step up in trip should suit ideally.
It’s interesting to see that Champagne Fever is starting his chasing career over 2½m at Punchestown on Saturday. With Our Vinnie and the highly regarded Marlbrook in the field he won’t have it all his own way. Back at Cheltenham tomorrow, Albert Bartlett runner up African Gold begins his chasing career (extended 3m,) taking on the penalised trio White Star Line, Le Bec and Shutthefrontdoor. I’m hopeful he’ll be up to the task.
There’s plenty of interest in the novice hurdle division as well over the weekend. In Ireland the much touted Faugheen begins his career over timber with a simple enough looking task in a maiden at Punchestown. It’s interesting he starts over 2m6f. At Cheltenham on Sunday, whilst the defection of the even more touted West Wizard is a pity, it still looks a cracking 4 runner Grade 2 over an extended 2m. I doubt this will be a race for betting on but whilst all 4 have claims, Sea Lord might well complete the 7 timer. There’s also Grade 2 novice hurdle action at Cheltenham on Saturday (2m5f) where Timesremembered bids to follow up an impressive win in the Persian War at Chepstow.