Matt Tombs / Friday 6th March 2015 / 13:22
One of my weaknesses as a punter is that when I have a long range ante-post bet that’s really shortened, I’m inclined to park that race and focus on the races I haven’t found a bet in. Given there could easily be value on different horses much closer to the time, it’s obvious how poor an approach that is. A particularly bad example was the JLT two seasons ago. I’d backed Dynaste, who was a very short price by Festival week, and I ignored the final declarations. By doing that I missed backing a horse I really liked, Benefficient, (who I’d thought would run in the Arkle.) Benefficient won at 20/1.
This season I’ve been really bullish on Un De Sceaux’ Arkle chances since the summer and have backed him at all prices down since then. If he can land the odds now then I’m in clover for the week. It may sound an obvious thing to say, but if he handles the occasion and jumps round, I’d be surprised if any of these could get near him, let alone beat him. The risk is that the day gets to him or his jumping doesn’t hold up – and 8/13 in that context is probably about right.
I had been waiting for winning distances markets – Ventana Canyon won the Arkle by 20l, Tidal Bay by 13l and Azertyuiop by 11l. There aren’t any distance markets yet, but SkyBet and Paddy Power are now betting (ante-post rules) without the favourite.
For this market you have to assess two main situations – firstly that all goes well for Un De Sceaux and secondly that he bombs out. In the first scenario a good strategy is to look for a runner that’s being ridden to finish 2nd – there must be a good chance that if Un De Sceaux wins easily, something will run on through beaten horses to claim the runner up spot, potentially at a big price. Equally, if Un De Sceaux loses the plot in the preliminaries or ends up on the floor early on, then a very different race will develop. (There are clearly other scenarios – eg Un De Sceaux doesn’t run and Vautour takes his place.)
Ideally we want a horse that can cope with either main scenario, but it’s likely Un De Sceaux will win, so I want to place more emphasis on what might finish 2nd to him.
When you first look at a market like this, it’s worth checking the over-round. They’re inevitably larger than the much more liquid win markets. The over-round here is 155%, which at first sight suggests you’d rarely have a bet. However, it’s priced it up including all 18 left in the race. In reality only about half of those will line up and, depending on exactly who does, the real over-round is about 120%, which is much more reasonable.
What attracts me about the market is that Vibrato Valtat is so short at 2/1. Even if Willie Mullins didn’t have a runner, I wouldn’t have him as short as that. His form is decent but with the possible exception of his Kingmaker win, I don’t think any of it is good enough. On his earlier runs he has virtually nothing in hand of Three Kingdoms (9/1) and Dunraven Storm (20/1). He was giving the 153 rated Top Gamble (40/1) 3lb in the Kingmaker and beat him easily by 4½l. If that’s taken at face value then he’s a worthy favourite in this market but Top Gamble’s lofty mark was based on beating Far West and Mountain King, who’ve disappointed since. I’d judge Vibrato Valtat more on the balance of his form, rather than him having improved enormously on his last run.
Whilst Paul Nicholls seems to be turning dodge-pots into class acts for fun, I’m still not sure Vibrato Valtat won’t spit the dummy when the heat gets turned up here. The other concern is that the vibes are that he’s going to be ridden to win the race. He’s not a strong stayer at 2m, and I can see him getting tired up the hill. He looks a lay in this market.
It’s looking more likely that Three Kingdoms will run in this but I just don’t think he’s quick enough. I’m surprised connections didn’t stick with the previous plan of the JLT. Dunraven Storm is eligible for veteran’s races and is a most unlikely winner.
Josses Hill (7/2) has jumped poorly so far in 3 chase runs for such a scopey horse. He’s shown he has an engine though and Nicky Henderson did win the Arkle with Tiutchev who’d jumped poorly on his 2 chase runs. He might also have the advantage of being ridden to finish 2nd to Un De Sceaux, but he’s a very chancy proposition on what we’ve seen so far.
The wildcard amongst the British contenders is Sgt Reckless (7/1) who has had a bizarre preparation for this. He won a beginners at Uttoxeter in October, (jumped well but form hasn’t worked out.) He then got lapped by Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle, before winning a 12f all-weather maiden at Lingfield. He doesn’t look straightforward to me, but if his jumping holds up after only one chase run, I can see him running through beaten horses to be placed here. He’s one to consider but again is a risky proposition.
The forecast has improved and it might be that the ground will be quicker than the predicted good to soft on the first day if no watering occurs. If it is then Court Minstrel (16/1) definitely comes into this as he’s a fast ground specialist. If we get similar ground to last year’s Arkle he might be one to back on the day, but he’s more likely to bypass the Festival in search of spring ground, so I couldn’t back him at this stage.
I’m in danger of having all my novice chase eggs in one (green) basket, but I’m sticking with the view that the Irish novice chase form is much stronger than the British form this season. Clarcam (9/2) won the Leopardstown 2m1f Grade 1 at Christmas, but was getting 11lb there and Vautour was clearly not right, (Vautour had beaten him easily previously at Navan.) He was then beaten 15l by Un De Sceaux getting 10lb in the Irish Arkle. Brilliant though Un De Sceaux looks, that does give an indication of Clarcam’s limitations – and he has to take the older horses on at levels here.
That looks to point pretty clearly to Smashing (10/1) who was confirmed as a runner for this the other day. He has good course form having been a fine 3½l 4th off 143 in the Coral Cup on fast ground last season. On testing ground he’s run 3 good races over fences. On his seasonal debut he was 10½l 3rd to Don Poli and Wounded Warrior over 2m4f, which looks good form now. He was then 12l 2nd to Un De Sceaux at Fairyhouse, (a distance clear of the other 14 runners, two of which have posted RPRs in the mid-130s since.) He broke his maiden in good style last time at Gowran over 2m2f, beating 140 rated hurdler Upsie by 33l.
I’d thought he was more likely to go for the JLT but it’s hard to know what his best trip is at the moment. There’s also been the suggestion he likes soft ground. Being by Smadoun that at first sight seems likely, but his dam-sire Green Tune tends to produce good ground progeny and his half-sister Faraude’s only win came on good ground. It might be that a fast run 2m on good to soft ground will suit him ideally.
It’s hard to compare horses thrashed by Un De Sceaux as you don’t know how much the winner was being extended, but literally he’s got 13lb in hand of Clarcam, (or 10lb if you take the view Johnny Burke’s 3lb claim was something for nothing.) In reality Un De Sceaux was asked for a little bit more against Clarcam, but I’d guess Smashing put in the better performance.
It might be that he got outstayed by Don Poli and Wounded Warrior over 2m4f, (made a bad mistake half-way there and another at the last, the first time hood has been discarded since). If 2m is his trip he should arguably be favourite in this market not a 10/1 shot. Even if he’s not a 2 miler, he’s the type to stay on past tired horses and grab a probably distant 2nd to Un De Sceaux.
Henry De Bromhead had a welcome winner the other day and the stable might just be coming into form at the right time. He looks to have been hugely underestimated here and rates a cracking bet.
1pt Smashing to win the Arkle (w/o Un De Sceaux) @ 10/1