January has been pretty quiet so far and I’ve been having a look at the Queen Mother Champion Chase market. Much as I love this race as a dramatic spectacle of white-knuckle, precision jumping, I rarely plunge into the ante-post markets with any vigour.
However, this year’s renewal is taking an interesting twist. Sizing Europe and Big Zeb are solid market leaders and I can’t really quibble with their credentials. But in looking for some value to take on these two, I’m persuaded that the opposition is a bit thin. Finian’s Rainbow didn’t impress that much at Kempton over Christmas and needs to improve to take this. He may well do so on Saturday in the Victor Chandler. But at a best-priced 6-1 I’m not interested. Leaving aside Nicholls’ team for a moment, many of the potential rivals look Ryanair-bound: Wishfull Thinking, Noble Prince, and at bigger prices Gauvain, Realt Dubh and Somersby.
So what of Team Ditcheat? This ante-post punt revolves around trying to second guess the plans of the champion trainer. Always a risky business. Here goes: I don’t believe Al Ferof will end up in the champion Chase. He could come out and smash the Victor Chandler field on Saturday. If he does, he’ll probably deserve his place in this line-up and I’ll eat my words. But it’s surely a risk pitching him into the big time and I can’t see that Nicholls has another live Arkle shout (possibly Poungach if he takes to fences, but he’s likely to need further). Kauto Stone would be interesting, but he’s surely another with Ryanair written all over him. He’s much shorter in that market than here. Ghizao is probably best at this trip, but not good enough. So my value punt is Hold Fast at 33-1 with Totesport. It is inconceivable that the champion trainer will not have a live chance in a race where he has such a wonderful track record. Hold Fast won a fair Sandown handicap well in early January with improved jumping. He’s not a fully-fledged Champion Chase contender yet, but if he shows the same rate of progress next time out (possibly another handicap at Donny on 28th) then he could be this team’s first choice. He won’t be 33s by then. Interestingly Ladbrokes who are NRNB on this market are offering Hold Fast at 14-1 and Kauto Stone ay 16-1. Tempting, but I’m here for the real value and am happy to expose myself on this half-baked theory.
Inexorable logic takes me next to the Ryanair Chase. This looks like a much more competitive affair. The sort of race in which I can see myself having any number of unwise dabbles with every twisting trial and trainer blarney. For now, I’ll settle for an each way shout on Realt Dubh. He’s been off the track since narrowly failing to beat Captain Chris at Punchestown last May and earlier in the Arkle at the festival. In between he landed a Grade 1 at 2 ½ miles beating Noble Prince who fell when looking well set. On a strict reading of form, you’d have to say those two still hold the edge. But with Realt Dubh trading at 20-1 and Noble Prince generally 4-1, the former is very much the forgotten horse. Noel Meade has had the Ryanair as his long term target after a setback in early season. He’ll have one outing in February before Cheltenham and on good ground he should easily outrun that 20-1 tag. He’ll need to impress first time out and has a bit of catching up to do. The slight concern is that the festival comes too soon. But you have to have an opinion and I’m looking at the value call here.
I think that lot might have shaken Pricewise off my tail....