Cheltenham's fast approaching and for many, that means starting to extract any value out of the money-back offers that start opening up about now. It makes sense when you can't be certain which way some contenders will go, and now that Big Buck's has gone amiss, this race is an option for several more than it could have been. Bear in mind though, that promo offers like that usually come at a cost, and that means extra percentage in the market. Regular contributor Jon da Silva, @creamontop, has stepped forward to take an early look at the feature staying hurdle of The Festival.
My favourite jumper was a hurdler called Morley Street who achieved a Timeform rating of 174 and won five straight years at the Aintree Festival. Had he been better trained he might have been one of the greats. Yet Big Buck's a giant who Morley would have laughed at at 21 furlongs or less is rated 176. Top class three-mile hurdling is for specialists. Yet take Big Buck's out and Grand Crus wins and he would hardly be classed as a dour stayer. Nor My Way de Solzen. Indeed the race can easily become slowly run with so many plodders and held up to get the trippers. This year's winner will likely not be an all time great or top class at the trip.
Reve de Sivola won the last two trials and probably the dourest stayer here - Tidal Bay excepted. I was all set to anoint this one last week but truth be told barely beating a dodgy stayer on bad ground and taking forever to dominate Knockara Beau and a six length beating of the likely under-rated Kentford Grey Lady combined with a reduced price like 5s is hardly bet compelling. The likely race will be 40 seconds quicker than the Cleeve. Key point is he might improve for good ground as his Neptune second shows he goes well on it but it could improve others more for me. 5s
Bog Warrior OK he's hardly failed at anything. Finished last once and otherwise unbeaten when completing (OK OK beaten when falling twice). Has won on nothing better than Yielding (Good to Soft) so maybe well named. Hard to evaluate but has crushed Solwhit and Zaidpour (the yardstick for those fetishists who do that kind of thing). On soft ground 10s might have some appeal but that is an outside chance regardless of water table twaddle. 10s
Oscara Dara certainly turned the Lanzarote into a cake walk with a remarkably easy looking win right up till he rooted the last and still picked up to win easily. That was off 140 and the first time at a trip. He would still need circa 15 pounds and to stay further on a tougher track. Not out of the question but entered this weekend. Exchange prices suggest he will run in the World Hurdle if he comes through all right. Inexperienced.
Peddler's Cross proved he had four legs the other day. Target uncertain. Ability retained uncertain. Stamina a guess. Not an ante post bet? 12s
Oscar Whisky would have every chance based on Saturday but chances of not running and one to consider Non Runner Non Bet knowing he may only run with ground to suit. I (and everyone else) has the suspicion that despite the ground Saturday showed he is not as good at three miles. 5s
Similarly Solwhit and Thousand Stars may also go straight to Aintree which could be a cracker. Mullins said Thousand Stars lost Aintree at Cheltenham last year and I think that comment should not be ignored. 16s pair.
Zaidpour beaten by Monksland and whilst impressive in many respects just lacks top class ability. Could win a slow slow quick race but assume likes of Oscar Whisky, Solwhit & Thousand Stars would be even better suited. Skybet's 33s out of line and exchange price even bigger so another who might be better suited by Aintree and NRNB.
Nothing so far
Monksland won a three-miler from Zaidpour the marker again. Now OR 158 and has to have a chance but the 18 length pasting when third in the Neptune makes me wonder at his class - hampered slightly, winner mustard. Goes on any ground. Six year old with only seven lifetime runs. Trained by Noel Meade, ummmh. Monksland goes straight there. 8s
Smad Place third last year and the two in front won't be there. Arguably below form with rest of stable but despite being six it hardly leaves him with a less than progressive profile and has been beaten off 140 in a handicap. Likely to run main positive. 20s.
Unlikely to run and even if she did quite fragile it seems so chance Cheltenham in a real race (not outclassing mares) not ideal. Mullins said she is extremely likely to win the Mares' race for a fifth time. World Hurdle hardly a big draw to drag her off a decent achievement. Exchange price 16s No bet
Seems better than ever - more accurately under Nicholls more consistent but then has been running on Soft ground all season. Would need slow ground for me and if he was mine and had been fit I would have won the Argento and Cleeve with him on Saturday just to show off. I suspect if he got his ground he would be in the Gold Cup. Thus an ante post bet is out.
On likely faster ground this race could cut up. If the cry wolves are right we might get soft ground and it becomes trickier with Tidal Bay and Bog Warrior back into it. I will be poised on the Exchanges if Oscara Dara runs this weekend. Indeed with a fair chance nothing steps up a case can still be made for Reve de Sivola but I fear he's too slow and even if he gets bad ground (Tidal will beat him if running).
The front pair did not impress me Saturday and whilst I accept he's not shown he is a 165 horse yet (TF 163 as it happens) and ran merely OK last year at Cheltenham. Monksland is progressive and with five wins from seven starts. Nibble at 8s with some powder reserved for the day and the ground. Monksland also has the highest Timeform rating bar Oscar and Quevega (who gets the mares' allowance on top).