Festival 15 - Ante-post progress: Champions Day

Like a mud-caked cartwheel turning slowly out of the claggy mire, I’ve come full circle with my Festival ante-post punting. Returning to a decade old strategy of backing big priced Betfair outsiders struck to low stakes that I think I might lay off when the market turns my way.  I rarely did lay off. The markets too often drifted the other way, or I got greedy and hung on to my big prices. I can think of only two occasions when I laid off to a reasonable profit.

Once when Nicholls took over the training of Venn Ottery for the irascible Oliver Carter and I backed him at massive odds in the 2004 Champion Chase place market. Nicholls then coaxed four wins from five runs out of the horse who was almost as quirky as his owner. A shot at the Champion Chase became realistic and I laid off my bet. Ottery finished 5th and tired after cruising into contention at the top of the hill.

The other occasion was Sublimity in the 2007 Champion Hurdle. Again backed at huge odds, I laid off a significant chunk on the eve of the race.  This proved to be a mistake. He won a race run to suit, bouncing off the drying ground at 16-1. I collected nicely enough on the on the locked in profit, but it could have been so much better if I’d resisted the lay.  

I fell out of love with Betfair and wrestled with the logic of trying to manage down the scale of my ante-post punting. Then followed a flirtation with No Run No Bet and No Run Free Bet offers. Seemingly risk free betting became a thin veil for tying up loads of wedge and lop-sided each-way caution. False economy and folly. Even though I had a couple of successful Festivals, I’m now back to backing win only long shots and multiple selections in single races, at small stakes.

Of course there are increased elements of lottery compared to ten years ago, given the additional targets that now exist for runners, particularly in the novice ranks. This has its compensations and risks in the fluctuating markets. Investment values may decrease as well as increase.   

Enough preamble already. What damage has been inflicted so far? Here’s the grizzly word:


I’ve yet to claim this race with a proper bet and it looks like another year will slip by. I’m not on Douvan. I wasn’t ready to plunge after his eye-catching debut at Gowran. I gave up after his demolition job at Punchestown. He looks a notch above L’Ami Serge who won a sub-standard Tolworth very well. It’s any price you like for the rest, with many contradictory form lines, particularly in Ireland. I’ve had a couple of quid or so on Sizing John at 51. You can get twice the price now. That seems crazy on the face of his Grade 1 win over Christmas. But that race has more form holes that a lump of gouda. And back in November, he was smashed to bits by Douvan, of course. De Bromhead is no fool though. Far from it. He’s keeping the horse fresh for a Spring campaign and I hope that he’s looking after an improver to send to Cheltenham where in an ideal world he’ll find Douvan on an off-day. Similar scenarios have played out plenty of times before in the Supreme: Cue Card and Dunguib most recently.  I’d been hoping David Pipe’s exciting Moon Racer would have made his debut over hurdles by now. He’s still in some markets, but looks like he’s being saved for the Bumper. Whatever, I’ll be back for more in this market, whether or not Sizing John lines up.


Yes, Un De Sceaux, if he stands up after his exuberant over-jumps. Yes, Clarcam who looked quality in despatching Vautour over Christmas. But for me, yes also Gilgamboa who should come here instead of the JLT, in my humble opinion. He’s shorter for that race – generally 8s – and I have him in this at 12s. So the wager is not a Betfair flight of fancy, but a proper bet. His win at Limerick on Boxing Day was just what you want to see in an Arkle candidate. Slick jumping, easy travelling, and high ratio gearing when given a squeeze. This weekend’s Irish Arkle will be a compelling event, with many of that country’s best two-mile novice chasers lining up.  That will clarify the target for plenty in this division. Entries for this and the other novice chases are out later today.

Champion Hurdle

Statistically, my best Championship race: Sublimity, Punjabi, Rock On Ruby and Jezki.
Maybe I should be looking for a contender that fits this rhyming pattern. I’d have as much chance. Jezki will no doubt get his ground again this year, but 5-1 doesn’t seem much value in this make up. Hurricane Fly is winning more respect for his warrior status with every race he runs and 14-1 seems insulting. And yet unless it comes up soft, he won’t be winning this. The New One ran his best race in two seasons at Cheltenham in the old Bula, to my eyes. Jumping fluently, travelling strongly and quickening away. I finally started to see what he was all about. Credit to Twiston-Davies for running the horse in all the decent races. That’s why they are in training, Hendo. However, The New One’s Haydock outing last week prompted questions again. Jumping right, making mistakes and only nailing an inferior opponent late on, admittedly out of ground he hated. So that brings us to Faugheen who has not put a foot wrong and answered every question. At nearly evens, it’s no bet for me.

On the basis of unearthing some unlikely value, I’ve dabbled with Greatwood Hurdle winner, Garde La Victoire. 66-1 and it’s an each-way NRNB. Breaking new rules early here. He has improved all season but it takes a stretch of logic to see him progressing past Faugheen and co. If he did turn up in this race, it would be via a strange handicap route – then again, it’s something his trainer Philip Hobbs has done before. Remember Rooster Booster? My only real hope is that Diakali turns up so that I can continue the phonetic sequence…

Mares Race

Annie Power’s race to lose if she makes it to the tapes. I was taken by Carrigmoorna Rock at Leopardstown over Christmas. Real battling qualities and should improve for better ground. I took 12-1, but bigger prices are available now. Carole’s Spirit, whom I love, will be another to improve on better ground, but seems to have developed a tendency to jump right. Both Glens Melody and Aurora D’Estruval will make it interesting. It all hinges on Annie’s fitness.

Four Miler

I’ve long been a fan of Sausalito Sunrise. King’s Palace has put him in his place twice over three miles, showing up the Hobbs’ horse’s lack of killer pace. So the extra mile in this extended novice event should work out well at a track he likes. He was still in touch with Coneygree when falling at Kempton last time and it’s to be hoped there’s no confidence damage. I’m on at 22 with Betfair and covered him in the RSA at 25s as well, but to smaller stakes.

That’s enough grief for this instalment. Back with Champion Chase Day howlers later…


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