Matt Tombs / Thursday 9th January 2014 / 13:30
The World Hurdle market has a great shape for those who like backing ante-post at decent prices. The 4 horses quoted at single figure prices all have major question marks over them, which suggests there’s loads of value to be found.
Big Buck’s (11/4) is the best staying hurdler I’ve seen and if he wins, it’ll further cement his place in legend. However, he’s an 11 year old, who has been off injured for 13 months. Whilst reports of his recovery from his tendon injury have been positive, there’s a big question mark about how much of his ability he retains. He’s due to run in the Cleeve Hurdle as a prep, (though if the ground is very testing I wouldn’t be surprised if he bypassed it.) If he bombs there there’s a good chance he’ll be retired. All in all I think he’s only 50:50 to get to the World Hurdle. Even if he does, since the turn of the century, only Moscow Flyer has won one of the 4 championship races at older than 9 – and he had a clear run. You have to be against him at this stage.
Annie Power (6/1) has looked a top class mare in racking up a 9 timer. She’s beaten a fair yardstick in Zarkandar but has never run over further than 2m5f and has so much pace, you have to wonder if she’d stay. If she does, she could be the next Big Buck’s. Ruby Walsh said before her last run that it would be good for her to get experience of Cheltenham “even if it’s on the new course”. That suggests the Champion Hurdle is her target. If Quevega were to miss the Festival then she may well be diverted to the Mares race as that’d be a penalty kick.
Last year’s winner Solwhit (7/1) is 10 so also has the age stat to defy, but he’s always been a class act. However, he’s had niggly problems so hasn’t run this season. Charles Byrnes is hoping to get a race into him before the Festival, (possibly the Boyne at Navan.) He’s a feasible winner but with all that he’s not a betting proposition.
More Of That (8/1) is the unknown quantity. Until the wheels came off for the same owners At Fishers Cross, he was seen as a novice chaser for next season, that’d be brought on quietly this term. He won the Relkeel at Cheltenham, (extended 2m4f, good.) His chance depends on how you interpret that form, (RPR 161.) Gemix had won the French Champion Hurdle in the summer, (beating Solwhit,) and Glens Melody had won the Grade 1 mares race at Punchestown. It seems neither ran their race but it could be that the first two, (More of That beat Salubrious 2¼l,) are very good. He’s unproven over further than 2½m and may head for the Cleeve next. Even if he runs there he’ll have had 5 runs in his life, all over hurdles. In the last 20 years, only Bacchanal (6 runs, all over hurdles) has won this after less than 11 runs in total. Given the stamina uncertainty and the fact he’s so inexperienced for a championship race, he’s been well found in the market now. If At Fishers Cross gets back on track he might bypass the race.
Boston Bob (14/1) was 2nd in the Albert Bartlett 2 seasons ago (at 6/5) when described by Willie Mullins as the best novice he’d brought to the Festival. He was apparently never right last season but might still have won the RSA if he hadn’t fallen at the last. That dispelled concerns about how he handled the track but the question mark remains about genuinely good ground, (hasn’t run on it since the Albert Bartlett). With Sir Des Champs out for the season, he’s now Willie Mullins’ shortest horse in the Gold Cup betting at 25/1, (Rubi Ball looks Mullins only other realistic contender for the Gold Cup.) He may well go back over fences and is only 8/1 NRNB.
At Fishers Cross (14/1) has disappointed twice this season, his jumping falling apart under pressure. He’s having treatment for his back and, whilst connections hope he might run in the Cleeve, it’s hard to know what to expect. He’s looked much better on soft ground, (his Sefton win was on ground more testing than the advertised good to soft,) so, even if recovers his form, good ground wouldn’t suit. He’s easy to oppose.
Reve De Sivola (16/1) has, like last season, followed up a moderate run at Newbury by winning the Long Walk at Ascot on bad ground. Last season he then had a hard race in the Cleeve when edging out Oscar Whisky, before finishing a fair 5¾l 4th to Solwhit in the World Hurdle. Nick Williams’ plan to keep him fresher this time, bypassing the Cleeve, might well work. He’s another with a question mark over good ground. In his youth he won a novice Grade 1 at Punchestown on good ground but hasn’t faced a sound surface since coming back from injury last season. His price is about right.
Celestial Halo (16/1) has been a great servant and he served it up to At Fishers Cross and Reve De Sivola when winning a Grade 2 at Newbury in November. Watching last year’s World Hurdle again it looked as if he was ridden as if stamina was a doubt and he ploughed through the last. With a better jump at the last and a more aggressive ride he might have won. He’s 10 now and has had a lot of racing but doesn’t seem on the decline. His price is fair.
Zarkandar (18/1) has been comfortably beaten in all 3 runs this season by potentially top class opponents – The New One (2m1f) and Annie Power (twice around 2½m). Whilst there is no disgrace in any of those runs, they look to confirm that he’s a shade below top class. He’s never run over further than an extended 2m4f and would need to improve a fair bit for the step up in trip to win a World Hurdle. It may be his main spring target will be another win in the Aintree Hurdle.
At the start of the season I’d quite fancied Monksland (16/1) but he’s had more problems and hasn’t made the track yet, (now off since December 2012). He looked to relish the step up to 3m when beating Zaidpour (25/1) on his last run but whilst Noel Meade is hopeful of getting him back ‘for the spring festivals’ he must be a doubt for this. Zaidpour has looked a mudlark and after winning a soft ground 3m Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas, Willie Mullins said “This is his track and ground. He’ll be hard to place now.”
The horse that provides fantastic value is Salubrious (25/1). He won the conditional jockeys race off 141 at last year’s Festival, (2m5f, soft), which in the conditions turned into a test of stamina, (time 36.6s above standard). Most of the Nicholls horses really needed the run at the time, so his short-head 2nd off 149 over an extended 3m1f at Cheltenham was an excellent start to the season, (winner Return Spring has won off 9lb higher since.)
Dropped back to an extended 2m4f he looked to be done for toe when beaten 2¼l by More Of That, (levels). The winner may have been held together in the straight due to inexperience, but equally AP might have had stamina concerns. Over an extra half-mile at championship pace, where Salubrious doesn’t have to do his own donkey work, he might well reverse the form.
Racing over a more suitable 3m1f, he faced Reve De Sivola at Ascot on bad ground Salubrious wouldn’t have liked. He looked to be coming to win the race when slithering on landing 2 out and losing all chance. Daryl Jacob said he would have won but for that mistake. If Jacob’s right then on decent ground you’d expect him to finish comfortably ahead of Reve De Sivola, yet he’s a 25/1 chance.
My initial concern was that he’s owned jointly by the late David Johnson and Andy Stewart, the latter also owning Big Buck’s and Celestial Halo. However, Andy Stewart says he intends to run all 3. I’d therefore much rather take the 25/1 ante-post than the 16/1 NRNB.
When looking back at last season’s Festival portfolio, I reflected here that profits would have trebled if I’d backed every horse that was 10/1 or bigger, each-way. Some ante-post columns back everything each-way, because the each-way terms are so generous at the sorts of prices ante-post bets are struck. My problem with each-way betting is twofold. Firstly, from an emotional point of view, I want to back the winner – cheering a well beaten horse into the last of the place positions feels hollow. More practically, I’ve tended to get distracted into looking for a horse that’s very likely to be placed rather than win.
However, the terms are so favourable I don’t want to abandon each-way betting entirely. So my latest attempt to utilise it is to ignore the possibility of backing each-way when I analyse a race – I just look for the best value to be the winner. Only once I’ve decided will I look and see if backing each-way instead makes sense. The key scenario where it does is a relative long shot, which is likely to run and you think the race will cut up badly. That’s exactly the situation here – Salubrious is an intended runner and there are real doubts about each of the first 6 in the market, Big Buck’s, Annie Power, Solwhit, More Of That, At Fishers Cross and Boston Bob, lining up.
1pt e/w Salubrious in the World Hurdle @ 25/1