Andy Holding is already looking ahead to next year's festival with two big price fancies.
Bookmakers are usually fairly conservative with their post-race quotes after most big races and they could certainly could never be accused of being overly generous, but sometimes they do take their eye off the ball and in the case of the betting for next season’s Champion Hurdle, the prices look odd and totally out of line to say the very least.
The obvious starting point when analysing prospects for next year is this season’s renewal and even though we had a runaway and impressive winner in the shape of Espoir D’Allen, there has to be an element of suspicion hanging over the form. First and foremost, the time figure posted by Gavin Cromwell’s runaway winner suggested he didn’t need to improve too significantly to claim the prize and then when you compare his circuit sectionals to Supreme Novice Hurdle winner, Klassical Dream, it reveals he was slower than Willie Mullins’ inmate at every point from the first in the back straight to the line. Moreover, with the likes of Buveur D’Air and Sharjah capsizing at the third, Apple’s Jade failing to fire and Laurina falling someway short of the mark, this season’s Champion probably didn’t take as much winning as what seemed the case beforehand. Without wanting to condemn a horse that has just destroyed seemingly the very best around by 15 lengths, we may need more evidence to see whether the son of Voix Du Nord is the real deal and, as it probably won’t be until next season until we find out, when he takes on the class of 2019, the current 11-2 top price in the village with Betfair Sportsbook looks about right compared to the unrealistic 7-2 with Ladbrokes.
Looking at the vanquished, obviously it was too early to know how the dual champion would have fared, but what we can say for certain is that mistakes – and big ones at that – are beginning to creep into his game more than before. Moreover, he will be nine next year and at some point, the sands of time will begin to start catching up with Nicky Henderson’s gelding. Even at 8-1, the biggest price he’s been for some while now, he makes limited appeal.
So too, for that matter does Apple’s Jade who once again proved that Cheltenham in March isn’t really her thing and a rather sulky display coincided with her abject performance in the Mares’ Hurdle the year before. Despite her overall brilliance in the build-up to the main event, she quite clearly is never going to be a Champion Hurdler and she rates a 25-1 chance to even line-up in next year’s race, let alone win it and justify her current quotes.
Laurina, too, was found wanting against the very best company and that wasn’t a great surprise given her speed figures were nowhere near the recommended standard in the lead up to the big race. Moreover, she’ll never get a better chance than the one that was presented too her at this year’s festival and the fact that she somehow managed to finish out of the frame when it was seemingly hers to lose coming down the hill, tells you all you need to know about her slight lack of quality outside of her own sex. Likely to be sent chasing next season, the daughter of Spanish Moon makes zero appeal at 25-1.
Despite their valiant efforts in second and third respectably, both Melon and Silver Streak are also hard to fancy, so why some firms have the former priced up at 16-1 is quite hard to understand.
Right, so having dissected and put a fork into most of those that are unlikely to win, let’s look at several that could easily burst through and make the grade next season.
Having already highlighted the excellent split times of Klassical Dream in comparison to Espoir D’Allen, it will be interesting to see which route connections take the son of Dream Well down next season. From the one in front of the stands to the line, Willie Mullins’ gelding was 2.6 second quicker than the Champion Hurdle winner, from three out to the same point he was 1.7 seconds superior and, on the run-in, he was 0.6 seconds the best. Considering he managed to achieve these numbers without having his ears totally ridden off suggests the five-year-old has a proper engine and it would be a shame knowing this information if he didn’t exploit the apparent lack of quality around in the two-mile division. At his current odds of 10-1, he makes the most appeal of those quoted towards the front end of the market.
Looking at the other big novice hurdle winner, City Island, and it’s safe to say he appears more of a stayer than several who’ve come back in trip from capturing the Ballymore – namely Istabraq, Hardy Eustace and Faugheen in recent times - and you’d have to have a large amount of imagination to think he’s going to be winning next year’s main two-mile event based on what we’ve seen of him so far.
As proven by Espoir D’Allen this term (See You Then and Katchit in recent times also), five-year-olds are thoroughly capable of mixing it against their elders if they are good enough, and in the shape of BAND OF OUTLAWS (best price 25-1) and PENTLAND HILLS (best price 33-1), we might be dealing with two juveniles who could also bridge the gap.
The former bypassed a possible tilt at the Triumph Hurdle in order to exploit what was perceived to be a lenient mark in the Boodles Juveniles Handicap Hurdle and so it proved, as Joseph O’Brien’s gelding made light work of a typically competitive field. Always moving like he’d got plenty up his sleeve, the son of Fast Company quickened smartly once he’d managed to crowbar his way out of several pockets of trouble along the way and in doing so, he poured cold water on the theory that he might not have the necessary requirements for a stiff, galloping track. Moreover, his final lap splits were much better than the other two hurdle winners on the same card, namely City Island and William Henry, and that suggests he was an above-average winner of a race that sometimes can be one of the weaker events of the festival. Proven on soft ground as well as a livelier surface, this exciting recruit has all the attributes of a potential future Champion Hurdle contender, in the sense he jumps and travels well at speed, and in a period where there are so many negatives surrounding some of the supposed main players, he looks an absurd price at this juncture.
The latter proved a total revelation in the Triumph itself and considering the performance he achieved was off the back of just one previous outing, there’s every reason to believe Nicky Henderson’s charge is open to any amount of improvement. In knocking out some big fractions on his hurdling debut at Plumpton, the son of Motivator suggested he was above-average at the very least, but at the same time, it was still a massive risk in taking such an inexperienced juvenile into the white-hot heat of a Grade 1 championship event. After making a notable error at the first, the four-year-old gelding found himself towards the rear of the field throughout the first mile of the contest, but by the time the field had turned for home, it was clear that he still had a big part to play. Looming up travelling well approaching the last, he impressed by the way he put the race to bed in a short space of time and in powering up the hill, he scored in the manner of a high-class individual. Analysing his achievements on the clock, he managed to run identical numbers to those posted by older horse handicap winner, Ch’tibello, in the County Hurdle - which is always a good guide to the strength of juvenile form – so there’s no real reason why the race shouldn’t stack up as time progresses. More than likely to take his chance at Aintree, where the flatter, sharper track should arguably suit just as well, a victory there would cement his position as being the best of his generation and then a long and deserved break will ensue until he’s ready to come back kicking and screaming to tackle the older brigade at the start of next term.
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