Matt Tombs / Wednesday 7th January 2015 / 17:30
Timing is crucial in all ante-post betting, including accumulators. When the best value is available varies season by season, but there’s so much quality racing over the Christmas period that, with those clues available, early January is often the perfect time to place an accumulator.
Sometimes value has been squeezed out of markets by now, particularly the championship races. That’s not the case this year – the Champion Hurdle is the only race with a mature market. I’ve put up Arctic Fire each-way for the Champion Hurdle as, on decent ground, he’s one of only 4 horses I can see winning. However, he faces 3 formidable opponents there and I’m less keen on him as a win only bet, (the point of an ante-post accumulator is to win a fortune for a tiny stake, so I don’t bet each-way.)
The Champion Chase picture is really murky. The vibes for Sprinter Sacre seem to be improving but, like Sire De Grugy, you couldn’t take a short price with all the question marks hanging over them. Champagne Fever is 10/1 non runner, no bet which is interesting, but despite him not looking to get home in the King George, I can’t quite see him as a 2 miler on good ground.
So I’m kicking off with the Gold Cup. Of the 14 Gold Cups this century, 5 were won by that season’s King George winner and 3 by the Lexus winner, so it’s no surprise to see Silviniaco Conti and Road To Riches heading the market. What is surprising is their relative prices.
Silviniaco Conti (100/30) is a top class horse on flat tracks but he’s had two bad experiences in the Gold Cup and horses with his sort of profile rarely win the race. By contrast, Road To Riches, (10/1,) looks to have the perfect profile as an improving 2nd season chaser, (8 of the 11 horses to have won the race this century won as 2nd season chasers.) He has a turn of foot, jumps and looks to stay well. He showed at Leopardstown that he doesn’t need to lead, he likes good ground and has a leading jockey.
He looked a bit of an in an out character last season but it might be that he’s just matured now. The obvious concern is that he hasn’t run at Cheltenham, which is always a negative, but there’s nothing in what I’ve seen that makes me think he wouldn’t handle the track. I can see him being half the price on the day, (whereas I can see Silviniaco Conti being bigger than 100/30 on the morning of the race.)
The World Hurdle is arguably like the Champion Chase in that you’d ideally want to see if More Of That can bounce back, before having a bet. I also want to see if there’s a classy young horse stepping up in trip that’s going to be targeted at the race. However, for accumulator purposes, I think Beat That (14/1) is worth including.
Whilst 3m novice hurdle form hasn’t been a good guide to the World Hurdle, I think classier horses are running in those staying novice races now and then going the World Hurdle route rather than novice chasing, (not least because leading connections have more difficulty trying to keep their horses apart, than in the days when the best horses were spread about more evenly.) Beat That’s two novice Grade 1 wins in the spring have been well franked. Cole Harden, (4l 2nd in the Sefton at Aintree), won the open Grade 2 at Wetherby and was 2nd in another at Newbury. Don Poli, (¾l 2nd at Punchestown,) has won a Grade 1 novice chase.
Like a few of Nicky Henderson’s he was slow coming to hand in the autumn and made a belated debut on New Year’s Day over an extended 2m4f at Cheltenham. He pulled far too hard there and was allowed to coast home. Nicky Henderson is a master at peaking horses, who’ve had issues, at the Festival – the same connections Finian’s Rainbow won the Champion Chase after getting the kid gloves treatment all season.
Given that it looked a classic run to blow away the cobwebs, I was surprised he was pushed out to as big as 14/1. It does look a race searching for a winner and given I don’t really need to forgive him that comeback run, he looks the most likely to take advantage if More Of That doesn’t bring his A game.
As usual the Ryanair market features stacks of doubtful runners. Dynaste might run but should be in the Gold Cup. Champagne Fever, Hidden Cyclone and Al Ferof are all at least as likely to run in the Champion Chase. Cue Card looks a shadow of his former self since returning from injury and Johns Spirit isn’t good enough. Simonsig doesn’t look like getting to the Festival and Balder Succes has to prove his stamina, (this hasn’t been a race for horses stepping up in trip). Taquin Du Seuil might be interesting nearer the time, but whilst many will be predicting Jonjo’s stable will emerge from its slump just in time for the Festival, I’m not backing any of his horses at this stage.
That all looks to leave Don Cossack (8/1) as a horse well worth including. Like Road To Riches, he didn’t look straightforward last year, but has looked a completely different horse this time around. Whilst it’s arguable the horses he’s beaten such as Wonderful Charm and Boston Bob weren’t at their best on the day, you’ve got to be impressed with the authoritative style of his wins. He jumps well and, unlike lots of the others, this definitely looks his trip. He sets the standard at 2m5f on this season’s form and I can see him going off pretty short, (depending on how much the race cuts up).
There were a stack of good novice chases over the Christmas period but the picture for the RSA didn’t look to get much clearer. If 3m Grade 1s are supposed to be the main trials then there are two each season, both at Christmas, one at Leopardstown and one at Kempton. The Leopardstown race was won by Don Poli who could be heading for the 4 miler, with the only horse to give him a race, Apache Stronghold, looking a non stayer and likely to run in the JLT. The Kempton race told us even less as everything bar Coneygree fell over.
This looks the sort of year where a lightly raced novice will improve out of all recognition in the couple of months left before the Festival. There are plenty of contenders but I’m taking a flyer that Le Vent D’Antan (33/1) is as good as I think he is, and that he runs here rather than the JLT. Le Vent D’Antan had ulcers at the start of last season and took a long time to come to hand, but rounded off with an impressive win in a minor conditions event at the Punchestown Festival, looking the classic sort where anything he did over timber would be a bonus.
He was reportedly well short of peak fitness when a good 2nd to Real Steel on his chasing debut and was then really impressive when destroying a good field at Leopardstown over Christmas. He runs in the traditional Irish trial, the Moriarty over 2m5f next, where he’s likely to face a selection of the top Irish novices including impressive Drinmore winner Valseur Lido. I like novice chasers that gradually step up in trip en route to the RSA, (the 2m5f Moriarty was the longest trip Lord Windermere and Cooldine had tackled over fences prior to winning the RSA.)
When nominating the Moriarty as his next target, Liz Doyle said that he’d be kept to intermediate trips “for now”, which seems to have been interpreted as meaning that he’d contest the JLT if good enough to travel to the Festival. But she’s also said that he’s a horse with a good cruising speed that takes time to quicken, but then keeps galloping – a perfect definition of an RSA horse. I’m interpreting “for now” as referring to his next race in the Moriarty, and he’s worth a speculative inclusion.
Stan James are top price Le Vent D’Antan and Road To Riches and are next best Don Cossack (7/1) and Beat That (12/1). They have a maximum payout of £250,000 and with the four timer paying nearly 40,000/1 you could win a quarter of a million for little more than a fiver:
Le Vent D’Antan (RSA) - 33/1
Don Cossack (Ryanair) - 7/1
Beat That (World Hurdle) - 12/1
Road To Riches (Gold Cup) - 10/1