Ante-post bolstering

I’ve been scrabbling around busily bolstering the Festival portfolio by trying to unearth value in opposing Mullins. It is a thankless task. Ahead of a traditionally informative trials weekend here and at Leopardstown, it’s time for a health check.

My nemesis, the Supreme. I’ve sided with Henderson here. There’s a collectors item. The last one was Sprinter Sacre (3rd!) in 2011. In absorbing a good few shrewd observations that Min is far too short for the rubbish he has been beating; and that he shows a little too much green-ness, I’ve backed Altior at 7/1. It’s principally a price call to oppose Mullins with one that is improving rapidly. That said, I think I saw some of those behind Min have now come out and won. Ho hum.

I also had a dabble with Anibale Fly at a neat 225/1 on Betfair last month. He was then beaten easily by Bellshill over 2 ½ miles. I had been hoping that a step back to 2 miles would see him line up in the Supreme, allowing me to cash out my first Festival profit this season. Ha ha!  No. It looks like he’ll go down one of the handicap routes and I’d be surprised to see him in the entries tomorrow.

Very much looking forward to seeing a combination of (is it too much to hope for all of) Yorkhill, Bellshill and Tombstone in the Deloitte Hurdle this weekend. Just about the best yardstick for the Festival novice hurdle grade 1s of the season. I’ll be hoping to get a proper fix on them as there is still some mileage in the Supreme market.

No further action in the Arkle. I have Ttebbob who hasn’t been seen since pulling up behind Douvan at Christmas. Given that he goes well fresh, I assume Jessie will send him straight to the Festival now, if he goes anywhere. Hard to be confident about this one. Finding anything to oppose Douvan is a tough ask and I’ll probably park the bus until the day of race, now. Intriguing selection from Pricewise though. I had to look up The Game Changer as I couldn’t even remember his run in October! We are all scraping around for some angles.

In the Champion Hurdle, I have assumed Old Guard will not line up. I do not know what went on with the Nicholls team over Christmas. There was almost a whiff of panic about the yard as they sensed the ending of their Grade 1 production line. Chucking Old Guard in to the Christmas Hurdle after three swift runs was madness. Especially after the trainer had initially said the horse would have a break before the Festival. Immediately after his poor run, the talk was all about stepping him up to 2 ½ miles.  The vibes coming out of Ditcheat are uncharacteristically knee-jerk. To be fair, it was a rubbish ante-post bet anyway. It now hangs on yet another change of heart from Pumpkin Head.

So I’ve added Identity Thief to my roster at 14/1. Carefully brought along by De Bromhead, I’m suckered in by another deceptively progressive profile. That will do here. Nowt will get near Faugheen the machine.

Nothing yet in the Four-miler. I’ve been very much enjoying Lydia Hislop’s microscopic and entertaining Road To Cheltenham series. I was thinking about Onenightinvienna for this marathon novice chase until I read that Lydia had whistled up Philip Hobbs on the speed dial to ascertain running plans. We discovered that the stout stayer would not be appearing at the Festival at all. He was instead being targeted as a novice at the Grand National. So she promptly backed him for it at 50/1. Fantastic stuff.

I moved to get Yanworth onside at 8/1 for the Neptune the day before his serene victory in Saturday’s novice hurdle trial at HQ. Given the manner of his win and that he now rates as my Festival banker, I feel I should point out that I have witnesses to this apparently brazen spot of after-timing. Happy to provide usernames and instagram profiles as necessary.

Nothing else here for now. And nothing in the Albert Bartlet yet either. Novice work to be done.  

The RSA has an open feel this year. This weekend’s action will shake the market up somewhat, with excellent trials both here and in Ireland. I’ve played some low stakes at biggish prices around Andrew Lynch’s Zabana. I sat up and took notice of his smooth debut in December. He’ll run in the Flogas Novice Chase on Saturday and I have him for the RSA at 26/1 (Betfair) and the JLT at 23 (also Betfair). The plunge on the horse today for the JLT is presumably in response to stable talk. In to 10/1 in some places. The JLT does look like the best race for him. Even if he runs really well on Saturday, the worry is the lack of practice he will have under his belt for the RSA which is always a severe test.

In which case, I’ll be knotted brow over the cards for Saturday when the likes of Seeyouatmidnight, Blacklion, Black Hercules, Roi Des Francs, et al will lay down some more markers.

After looking at Un De Sceaux in the Clarence House Chase, I concluded, like others, that the only horse who can get near him in the Queen Mother is Sprinter Sacre. No rocket science here. After UDS ran so well, Henderson’s standard-bearer drifted out a point and I pounced with a startling turn of feline precision. Sniffing out value as like it was kittekat. (I’ve had a modest interest at 5/1…!)  Sizing Granite, though having a pretty poor preparation, apparently remains on course for this race. However, he’s left De Bromhead and now resides with Colm Murphy. He is still available at prices within the same county as the one I have: 33/1 from December. I don’t take a great deal of comfort from that.

JLT – see Zabana and also Sizing John who will go straight to the Festival now. I do like Killultagh Vic here, but I’m unlikely to play again unless/until my two are scratched.

I’m bereft in the Ryanair. As usual, it’s the Festival equivalent of The Inbetweeners, full of immature types who would rather be somewhere else. Five of the top six in the betting are unlikely to line up. The only one I like is Village Vic. On the one hand, 12/1 with a run looks a smidge short for what he’s achieved. On the other, if Vautour, Smad Place, Road To Riches and the rest of the Gold Cup gang don’t show up, he has the race at his mercy. But now I read that Vroum Vroum Mag has this an option, alongside the World Hurdle and the Mares Hurdle. FFS!  (This is like thinking aloud on keyboard). OK, that’s it. I’m in. Village Vic NRNB at 12/1. [Update: availed myself of the 16/1 NRNB offered by those generous souls at Boylesports. Much happier with that.]

The World Hurdle looked so open in December and when I backed Martello Tower at 16/1. I thought I’d be having a fistful of juicy double-figure ante-posts to go with. Then Thistlecrack came along and stamped his presence all over the race. Twice. He’ the real deal. In the meantime, Martello has gone backwards and I’ve had no other bets. This race is a now a bit of a shocker. I need to regroup and devise a new strategy. The old one didn’t work.

I’d backed Myska a week or so ago at 7/1 for the new Dawn Run Mares Novice hurdle. She ran a stinker on Saturday and was later found to have a cough. She is the only Mullins horse I have backed for the Festival this year and her participation has to be in some doubt now.

Sceau Royal at 16/1 was added to the collection in early January, after Adrien Du Pont came out and won a decent Triumph trial in style (on desperate ground). My lad had beaten him well before Christmas. He’s ‘done nothing wrong’ as they say, and King is a master with these types. His latest prep was a low key affair and he remains best priced 14/1.

Finally, I have made up my mind about the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Don Cossack was backed at 5/1 with the lumpiest bet in this ante-post ramble so far, before his run in the Kinlock Brae Chase. I had concluded that his ability to maintain a good gallop off the pace and kick on in the closing stages in top company were the sort of attributes I was looking for over a trip where his stamina would come into play.  The key pieces of form that frank this view are the Punchestown Gold Cup where he won well last April and the King George where he fell at the last but looked like getting up.

His run in that Kinlock Brae raised as many questions as it answered.  There has been a lot said about the lazy way he ran. Whilst it’s a worry, I do have some respect for Elliot’s view that better ground will make all the difference. I have to keep the faith now.

Don Poli is the rival I’m most concerned about. That was the case before Djakadam’s fall last weekend. Don Poli is a grinder with stamina to burn. Just the type for that hill. Djakadam now goes into the race with the following stat hanging about his battered frame: Of the 103 horses since 2006 that have come into the Cheltenham Festival off the back of a last time out fall, only one has won. I don’t tend to hold such stats in very high regard, but that one is a cracker.

Roll on the weekend. After which this lot will probably be smashed up and I’ll need to start again. Again.


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