Matt Tombs / Monday 9th March 2015 / 16:36
The joy that is the opening day of the Festival is nearly upon us, and the first problem is working out how the ground will ride. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but ground that was already good to soft was watered over the weekend. It’ll be called good to soft regardless of how it actually rides – which could be anything from genuinely good, spring ground to testing. We won’t know until after the Supreme but the fact Evan Williams has declared Court Minstrel for the Arkle suggests it hasn’t been over-watered.
It’s a crucial day for the portfolio as the banker of the week Un De Sceaux runs, and we’ve got some long shots each-way that have shortened nicely in Bentelimar (25/1 from 50/1) and Arctic Fire (18/1 from 33/1). How we get on today will really shape the week.
For me, first and foremost, it’s an Un De Sceaux day. He’s the most exciting horse in training, and any day you get to see him run is a great day. He looks a class apart in the Arkle and only if the occasion gets to him, (he is a buzzy type) or if the fences get in the way, can I see him getting beaten. He could become one the greats and if he can show his normal form here, he’s much too good for these.
I’ve also backed Smashing in the without Un De Sceaux market at 10/1. I think he’s got every chance of finishing 2nd, so hopefully we can get paid out twice on the same race. At the moment there isn’t a realistic opportunity to get paid out three times via winning distance bets. Paddy Power are 6/4 Un De Sceaux to win by 8l or more and that’s not far off the mark, but watch out for other layers making winning distance markets. The value might be in taking a much bigger price on a really big winning distance.
The fact that its Un De Sceaux I’m most looking forward to might suggest it’s a below average Champion Hurdle, but the opposite is true – it looks a cracking renewal, with Faugheen, The New One and Jezki all looking well up to winning a Champion Hurdle. Unless they’ve overwatered I can’t see Hurricane Fly winning, but it’ll be an “I was there” moment if he does and, for me, would earn him comparison with Istabraq.
I was tempted to back Jezki each-way as I think he’s almost bound to be in the first 3, but I’m relying on Arctic Fire. A fast run race on decent ground will suit him hugely better than the steadily run races he’s been running in over the winter. Polly Peachum completes the ante-post book. The Mares Hurdle all depends on Annie Power but she has to perform after nearly a year off and I’m happy with 10/1 about Nicky Henderson’s mare.
After all the debates over which novice chasers run in which race, I’d thought it had worked out with Wounded Warrior running in the 4 miler, but a late change of plan has ruined what looked a great bet. The 4 miler has become a fairly predictable race, with the top rated finishing 1112 in the last four years. Wounded Warrior had 5lb in hand officially but with him out of the way it’s a very tight contest, with the top 4 separated by just 2lb.
Albert Bartlett winner Very Wood (7/2) has a chance on his 2 wins this season, but has bombed on both other occasions. He’s much more the sort I’d back at long odds in the RSA than short odds in this. He has the advantage of Nina Carberry’s experience but doesn’t look any easy ride. Nor does The Job Is Right (8/1) but he has the huge plus of top amateur Derek O’Connor on board. I wonder if he was flattered by his proximity to Djakadam in the Thyestes when tipping up though, and he looks to have a bit to find.
I like Sego Success (5/1) who has had this as his target all season, and Alan King has won 2 of the last 7 renewals. His form with If In Doubt looks good now and he looks likely to stay the 4m, with Gold Cup winning jockey Sam Waley-Cohen on board.
I can’t split his chances from Cause Of Causes (8/1) though, so Gordon Elliott’s charge gets the vote given the disparity in prices. It’s amazing to think of a Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle (2m) winner lining up in this, but that shows he has a touch of class. He looked to be coming to win the Kim Muir, (extended 3m1f), last season off 140 when blundering at the last, so we know he likes the course. He looks to have been laid out for this all season and top class amateur Jamie Codd rides, (rather than take the mount on Broadway Buffalo, despite his riding so often for the Pipes here.)
Cause Of Causes is a maiden over fences after 10 starts, but he has arguably the best form, and experience is a huge asset in this, (recent winners Chicago Grey and Poker De Sivola, (who also ran in the Kim Muir the previous season,) had had 9 and 11 chase starts respectively.) If he gets the 4m he has a great chance.
1pt Cause Of Causes to win the National Hunt Chase (4:40) @ 8/1
The open 3m handicap chase looks incredibly hard to fathom – the typical sort of staying handicap chase at the Festival that if you ran it 10 times, you’d get 9 or 10 different winners.
The novice’s handicap chase over an extended 2m4f looks a bit easier – with just 6lb between top and bottom weight. I’d looked at this when NRNB was first available on the basis that the Irish novice chase form was so strong that there were bound to be some top prospects that’d been beaten in very good Irish novice chases, leaving themselves very well handicapped. I put up Jarry D’Honneur, just ahead of Blood Cotil, but both had their Irish mark of 140 bumped up to 141 and so weren’t allowed to compete.
There are only 2 Irish runners in the field and ironically I don’t fancy any of them. I think the prize will stay at home, but perhaps not via the market leaders. The favourite is 136 rated Generous Ransom (8/1), who won the similar event at the Trials meeting at January off 128, in first time cheekpieces. Nick Gifford thinks he’ll be better on better ground, but you generally have to be a prospect for top races to win this and I’m not sure he is. He has a chance but it’s hard to argue he’s value.
The best of the market leaders looks to be Thomas Crapper (8/1) who was a good 4½l 2nd to Don Poli off 134 in the Martin Pipe. Crucially, he looks to have been aimed at this all season. He had 3 runs over an inadequate 2m in the autumn, chasing home leading British novices Three Kingdoms, Vibrato Valtat and Court Minstrel. He was then well beaten by Irish Saint at Ascot and Third Intention at Kempton over intermediate trips. He looks nicely handicapped off 134 and ought to be in the mix, though he does look a handicapper rather than anything better.
At a bigger price I like Killala Quay (16/1). He didn’t jump fluently in the Neptune last year and met trouble in running before powering home to be 6l 4th to Faugheen. He was a solid 8l 2nd to Puffin Billy on his chasing debut but was then very disappointing in a 3m Grade 2 at Doncaster – perhaps not getting the trip. He made his handicap debut off 141 last time and ran the ideal race to be 7l 2nd to Seventh Sky, which resulted in him being dropped the 1lb he needed to qualify for this. He looks good each-way value.
However, I’m taking a chance on the enigmatic Cocktails At Dawn (16/1), who has always had a big reputation at Seven Barrows, (ran in the Neptune last season.) Nicky Henderson’s horses were slow coming to hand in the autumn but he made a solid debut off this mark of 135 at the start of November, when 2nd to The Clock Leary, (subsequent winners Garrahalish and Strollawaynow behind.) He tipped up the next time at Catterick and then got stuck in the mud and blundered away his chance at Kempton in January.
He’s clearly a risky betting proposition as his jumping hasn’t stood the test in two much less competitive races than this. He could easily get lost early on in a big field if he doesn’t jump well enough. However, if he can get into a rhythm, he is one of the few horses in this that I can see having the talent to take in top races next season. He loves a sound surface and if he can put his best foot forward he’s well up to winning.
1pt Cocktails At Dawn to win the Novices Handicap Chase (5:15) @ 16/1