It's so close now you can almost taste it! But before we all trek to Cheltenham, it's the fun and games of the Preview circuit to get the blood pumping. If you're on other side of the Irish Sea, then I suggest you get to the Dublin Racing Club preview this week.
In return for the plug, they've provided this longshot preview from 'resident hot air merchant' Stephen Cass, @cassstephen from the Dublin Racing Club.
Five Festival Hail Marys
Maybe it is just me but the ante-post markets this year have felt something of a dead duck. The Willie Mullins guessing game, the short priced favourites on the Tuesday, and bookmakers' reticence to offer ante post allowances has made for a more muted build-up.
Last year Bet Victor had a fantastic non-runner free bet promotion from January onwards. Safe in the knowledge if they returned your ante post cash in the form of a free bet, you would punt it again Cheltenham week. It’s very possible they were stung by being top price Faugheen at 14/1 and 12/1 for the Neptune for most of January. However it is lamentable they didn’t give it one more year and it is certainly a shame no one else followed their lead this year.
With Bet 365 now going NRNB, and with the preview season getting into full swing, the excitement radar has begun to boil. My January dread of the fear I will experience post festival from doing the entire week in the Cotswalds for the first time (I normally do the first two days) is being replaced with huge anticipation of the weeks racing. So now seems a good time to scour the market for the longshots who might rescue my week at some stage. Last year Lord Windermere at 50/1 turned a moderate week into a good one, and Briar Hill at 125/1 the year before rescued the first half of the week from disaster. I’m probably due a bad ante post year, so I might as well share my value losers with you for good measure.
Before I do, one word of caution on the markets at present. I would be certain you will get a bigger price on Douvan, Un de Sceaux and Faugheen on the Tuesday morning when bookmakers go bat-shit crazy trying to attain new accounts. Now is the time to back long-shots. If you fancy the shorter ones be patient and you will be rewarded.
So below is my five Hail Mary’s. To hear more qualified opinions than my own, please come along to the DRC preview on Thursday 26th in the Alexander Hotel. It will be a super night.
Carraig Mor e/w, RSA Chase, 50/1 Bet 365 NRNB
Anyone who backed this horse at Haydock in January may think I have lost my marbles. Sent off 11/8 favourite Carraig Mor jumped well but completely floundered on heavy ground and was pulled up. It’s hardly an ideal prep for the hurly burly of an RSA but you can always forgive a horse one bad run, particularly on woeful ground, and at this price I am willing to do so.
His two previous runs are where the encouragement lies. At Newbury in November he beat the much hyped Southfield Theatre (10/1 for the RSA) very easily. He was in receipt of 7lb that day so the result can’t be taken too literally but the bare result doesn’t tell the whole story. Carraig Mor’s saddle slipped early in the race so to win in such commanding fashion was impressive against a very good yard-stick.
On his next run at Kempton in the Feltham he was the only horse who could go with the revelation that is Coneygree. In fact to my eye he was going equally as well as Coneygree and had really good horses like Saphir de Reu and Sausalito Sunrise in big trouble when he unseated at the eight fence. We’ll never know how he would have got on but he definitely was the only horse that day that was capable of giving Coneygree something to think about.
Speaking of Coneygree there must be a doubt he will be as effective on better ground. And if he was mine he would be definitely be going for the Gold Cup. He’s clearly a fragile sort, he has only ran nine times in his life and missed almost two years at one stage, so connections must be tempted to strike while the iron is hot. If he skips the RSA it will open up the race that little bit more.
Don Poli is a worthy favourite and I am his biggest fan but there are three major reasons to take him on. Firstly, no horse has won the RSA in the past 50 years without having a prep run in the calendar year. Say what you want about stats but I think this is a telling one as the RSA is a race where experience counts. That brings us on to the second reason to take on DP, the fact he has only ran twice over fences. His inexperience over large obstacles must be a concern for backers, as must be the fact Willie Mullins is being outrageously stubborn in his refusal to rule out the *yawn* 4-miler at the festival.
If either Coneygree or Don Poli swerve the race, there is value to be had in this race and Carraig Mor at 50/1 will do me.
Snow Falcon e/w, Albert Bartlett, 40/1 Bet 365 NRNB (50/1 generally)
This price is simply wrong. Without having to read the rest of my reasoning just take into account the fact Paddy Power go 16/1 and take the big prices now. I can see this horse going off around the 14/1 mark so on value grounds alone he is worth a punt.
But there are some compelling form reasons too. From only six career starts this strapping sort has never been outside the first two. Since stepping beyond two miles his form has ratcheted up a couple of notches. He got within half a length of the useful Identity Thief over 2m4f at Leopardstown at Christmas, and Carberry struggled to pull him up after the line that day. He then improved again to sluice up in a 2m7f maiden hurdle at Navan on soft ground.
Being a son of Presenting he will definitely improve for the better ground at the festival. His profile is not that dissimilar to last year’s winner Very Wood, also trained by Noel Meade. The recently married Meade is in ebullient mood at present and he is quietly sweet on Snow Falcons prospects. On an upward curve, in good hands, and certain to relish good ground, this horse is no 40/1 shot. There is also the prospect that the Albert Bartlett is a weak race this year. The English challenge particularly looks flimsy. If Value at Risk is the UK’s best hope then they have no chance of winning the race as he looked a soft touch the last day. I would fancy Snow Falcon to beat him and on that basis alone he worthy of support.
Eduard, Ryanair Chase, 25/1 generally
You could bide your time on this one and wait for the big firms to go NRNB as Eduard will probably be at least 20/1 when they do eventually offer that concession. There is plenty of reasons to like that price.
Firstly, the Ryanair strikes me as a weak race this year. Don Cossack is yet to prove he acts on the track. Cue Card looks gone at the game. Johns Spirit has never even got close to winning on the new course at Cheltenham, and Balder Success is a solid but limited performer. This is exactly the type of race that is primed for a boil-over.
Nicky Richards’ flashy performer Eduard has always looked a spring horse, waiting to explode on the scene in the big festivals. Last April he won Ayr’s big novice chase by demolishing the now 159 rated Valdez by 20 lengths. His two runs this season give even more cause for optimism. At Carlisle on his seasonal debut he tried to give Hennessy winner Many Clouds 6lb and went down by only 1.25 lengths. Holywell was 15 lengths back in third.
Eduard then went to Huntingdon where he was a 1.5 length second to Wishful Thinking in the Peterborough Chase. He ruined all chance by jumping markedly left that day and to finish so close to a 167 rated chaser when looking inexperienced was a fair performance. The left-handed layout of Prestbury Park and fast pace of the Ryanair should suit Eduard’s strong travelling nature. At 25/1 he looks one of the value bets of the entire week.
Jetson, World Hurdle, 25/1 Ladbrokes NRNB
This piece is beginning to get a bit long so I will keep this one short and sweet. Jetson may be a ten year old but he looks to be improving. Hi last three runs have been in grade one company and all three have been crackers. He finished last season by notching his first win in G1 company by beating the darling of folk who love consecutive winners of moderate races, Quevega, at the Punchestown festival.
He began this season with a 4 length second to the underrated Lieutenant Colonel in the Hattons Grace. Stepped up to 3m at Christmas he got within half a length of that rival when a battling second. That form reads really well in the context of the World Hurdle with classy rivals Monksland, Dedigout and Glens Melody all well beaten.
I actually think Lieutenant Colonel is the most likely winner of the World Hurdle but the discrepancy in price between him and Jetson seems too big given what they have both achieved, and a small each way investment on Jessie Harrington’s likeable charge looks warranted.
Devilment, Triumph Hurdle, 25/1 Boylesports NRNB
The market for the Triumph looks outrageously lopsided with Peace and Co one of the worst 9/4 favourites I can ever remember. Yes he has looked very good to date but he certainly hasn’t looked a straightforward ride and against any number of unexposed sorts he rates the lay of the festival. I wouldn’t back him at 4/1, let alone 9/4 so by definition there must be value in this market.
The Irish challenge looks underrated as usual. For the last two years everyone has crabbed the Irish juveniles only for Our Conor and Tiger Roll to come out and show why Leopardstown form is the form when it comes to festival pointers. If you could get a price of 2/1 or bigger on an Irish trained winner that would be worth snapping up.
However for the purposes of longshots none of the Irish horses meet my self-imposed 25/1 or bigger criteria and the one I like at the prices is Devilment, with the NRNB concession essential in this instance as he may wait for Aintree.
One of these years John Ferguson is going to explode on to the Festival scene and perhaps Devilment could be the horse to do launch him into the winners enclosure for the first time. The first reason to fancy this regally bred son of Cape Cross is his flat background. There is a strong trend for Triumph winners to come from the flat game and of those who do, only one horse was rated lower than 80 in the past 20 years. Devilment certainly has the requisite class, having achieved a rating of 94 on the level for Charlie Appleby.
His hurdles form is even better. On debut at Plumpton he chased home the 140 rated Pain Au Chocolat, while doing all his best work at the finish. The promise of that run was confirmed when he bolted up at Wetherby subsequently. He improved further to win an ok looking contest at Doncaster under a penalty. The way in which he travelled and jumped was eye-catching that day and the strong pace of a Triumph looks sure to suit his strengths. Unlike a lot of Ferguson’s horses he doesn’t look to have any quirks and it is not hard to envisage him travelling sweetly and swinging off the bridle two out at Cheltenham. Whether he is good enough to beat the likes of Beltor and Petite Parisien is another story but I’ll be paying to find out at a juicy price.
So there we have it. 2,000 words of bluster and hot air. If you managed to read the whole thing, thank you and well done for your remarkable staying power. I’ll buy you a pint if my life changing super yankee (NRNB with B365) manages to strike!