Shaping up: Festival 2014

My 2014 Festival Schedule of Shame is already looking much plumper than at the same stage last year. I put this down to the emergence of earlier than usual non-runner-no-bet markets on the Championship races and more attractive prices in Victor Chandler’s non-runner-free-bet policy.

Last season I tried hard to cut down on flabby, reckless ante-posts and to save my investments until nearer the day.  I was not so taken with VC’s thrifty prices on my festival fancies then, even though offered at no-show-no-risk. The result? My most numbingly painful and loss-laden Cheltenham in years.

I had long held that bullish ante-post punting was giving me an eyes-like-saucers, big-odds-seeking build up to the Festival whilst in reality driving sink holes into my betting strategy that could swallow half of Hemel Hempstead. Last year was an attempt to curb those instincts. It clearly made no difference.

It’s back to chasing the value this year. Good thrill hunting is winning out against measured caution. I’m looking to turn up on Tuesday 11th March with a fistful of ante-post vouchers for live chances that are at least double the forecast SP. I feel better already.

This is how the quest is shaping up:

Irving at 10-1. Struck before the Deloitte Hurdle at Leopardstown last week where The Tullow Tank fluffed his lines but Vautour improved into favouritism. The result also saw Irving clipped in a couple of points. I had backed him thinking a good show in the Betfair Hurdle would see his price collapse. In the end he didn’t make the race. But his good win at Ascot in December sets a fair standard with that eventual Betfair Hurdle winner Splash of Ginge back in third.

So tough. Champagne Fever seems very short on the balance of what he’s done. He acts very well round Cheltenham, but I can’t have him at that price. Trifolium I like. I wrote him off after last season, but the wind ops have finally worked and he’s improving massively. He jumps really sweetly and seems to travel well just off the pace. I missed the real value though. 20-1 before the Irish Arkle, I got only 6-1. No double SP odds here. I’ve also had a little dabble with Hinterland. He’s a horse I’ve liked since his juvenile season when he never quite lived up to his potential. The same goes for his novice campaign last year, before injury curtailed it. Bigger, stronger and a better jumper, maybe this March is when he delivers on the promise. His good win in a classy renewal of the Henry VIII at Sandown in December is my most compelling piece of evidence. Best after a break and with form at the track, I’m on at 11-1 e-w.

Champion Hurdle
Tingly all over. A renewal that gets deeper and more irresistible with every trial. I’m counting eight live chances. And I include Melodic Rendezvous (25-1 e-w) amongst them. Nothing in his irresistible win over Zarkandar has dissuaded me from this. In any other year he’d be a battle-hardened live each way shout. This year, with My Tent Or Yours and Un De Sceaux completing their bloodless preps on the same weekend to add to top drawer form already posted by the Fly, The New One, Our Conor and Annie Power, I couldn’t say he’s a nailed on place candidate. I also have Jezki at 12-1 e-w in the hope that he will improve with a race run to suit. Such an event in prospect.

David Nicholson Mares Race
Carole’s Spirit at 25-1, as previously advised. Nothing new to report, except that the race looks even tougher with Glen’s Melody posting a decent result last week and Annie Power still riding high in the betting.

Red Sherlock, 6-1, as before, and no change in the price. I also have Champagne West, 33-1 e-w, though he’s more likely for the Pertemps.

RSA Chase
I already had Many Clouds (25-1 e-w) and Annacotty (25-1 e-w). Both have been supported into best-price 20s. Annacotty without lifting a finger and Many Clouds after a belting race on Saturday at Ascot. In my eyes the horse lost nothing in defeat to O’Faolains Boy after taking on Gevrey Chamberlain for the lead too far out. And especially so since I had backed O’Faolains Boy at 33-1 for the RSA before this race. He’s a 40TF horse and was happy to take a chance on him rediscovering form. Nice when it works out that way. Not that Mark Brown, a Racing Post race analyst gives Rebecca Curtis’s charge much chance, “As for this year´s festival, he's probably worth a shot at the RSA (best-priced 20-1) but would make little appeal for win purposes.” Apart from that little aside, I feel mob-handed in the value department for the RSA.

Queen Mother
Not much of a betting heat and a likely small field in a market that will cut up a little more. I’ll be involving Sire De Grugy in some straight or combination action (as a 40TF horse), otherwise, simply a glorious spectacle.

Market leader Benefficient returned to form in the Dial-A-Bet chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. But at 5-1 he makes much less appeal that the horse he (interfered with and) beat by only ¾ that day, Hidden Cyclone. Shark Hanlon’s horse is available here at 12-1. He has recovered from a disappointing season and a half to recapture the promise shown in his hurdle and early novice chasing days. 2 ½ miles is his trip and he has good enough track form behind John’s Spirit in the Paddy Power in November. In a race that could still cut up, this is a tender bit of melt in the mouth value.

World Hurdle
Backed Zarkandar at 10-1 before the Kingwell on Saturday, thinking that if he mullered MR his price would contract. He didn’t and it didn’t. Not a confident bet especially. Although he’s well worth a shot at 3 miles, having lost some zip this year, I’m not putting my mortgage on this one.

Albert Bartlett
I do like my novice hurdlers. But I’m looking a bit shaky here. Sausalito Sunrise (50-1 e-w) is a big outsider, even by my standards. Champagne West (25-1 e-w) as advised earlier is more likely for the Pertemps. I had a little look at Oscar Rock as well on Saturday morning. The usual tactic – 25-1 e-w would look big if he trotted up in his prep at Haydock. He was very poor, however. Looked like he hated the deep ground, but that alone is probably not enough to explain the drop off in the form since November.

Gold Cup
I haven’t fully recovered from Silviniaco Conti’s fall at the fourth last in 2013. He was tanking. Even though my head says Bob’s Worth would have ground him down on the hill, my heart says I’d have loved to see what Conti had left to give. My head - still chuntering away – says that Cheltenham really isn’t his track. This time I’m listening. I’m not interested in Bob’s Worth either at 9-4. Whatever value there was after his poor seasonal debut I missed. So thankfully Last Instalment produced an exhilarating display of jumping in the Irish Hennessy to enable me to have a proper bet in the Gold Cup. 8-1 is a fair price, given he hasn’t run at the Festival before and he might want soft going.

More soon. Inevitably.


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