Cheltenham Ante-Post Opportunities

January 5th, 2018 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

I am not surprised that a handful of bookmakers have decided to introduce the ‘non-runner, no bet’ concession earlier than usual for the top races at Cheltenham.

As if the ante-post market were not dormant enough, any confidence that interested punters had would surely have been undermined by the results over the Christmas and New Year holiday.

Starting with Faugheen, I would attribute his performance to a mental issue. As I established in my book Strictly Classified, the memory of pain can affect a horse as much as the actuality and having been found to be post-race normal, I suspect Faugheen decided that something was about to hurt him.

In the immediate aftermath of the race I actually stepped in to back him for the Champion Hurdle at an average of 20/1 on Betfair. I took a chance that he would be sound – that is how he looked to me on pulling up – and knowing Rich Ricci’s bold approach I anticipated that if all was found to be fine the Champion Hurdle would remain the priority target.

Apparently the horse was off his grub for a couple of days, while it should also be noted that a number of his stable companions appear to have been under the weather. To sum up, I expect Faugheen to be back firing in time for March.

Buveur D’Air seems to have improved again since the spring, winning both his Grade 1 races this season with great ease. His jumping has been very slick and he appears to have had plenty in reserve passing the post. A top price of 4/6 – as short as 1/2 in places – the seven-year-old does not represent value until we know more about Faugheen.

Of the others, Melon is comfortably held by the favourite on a line through My Tent Or Yours, Yorkhill is talented but quirky and was last seen running down the field in the 3m Christmas Chase at Leopardstown.

Defi Du Seuil could always come back to form after a disappointing effort on his return at Kempton. Of the outsiders the each-way value at 16/1 is probably My Tent Or Yours, having finished runner-up in the race three times. The horse has always had tremendous class and he powered up the hill to win the International Hurdle there in December. That form reads well and although running in the same colours as the favourite he is as certain as any horse can be to be aimed at the race.

It seems that Altior may run directly in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. This renders ante-post betting even more speculative than normal, as I would not be willing to oppose him if he turns up well on the day.

For all that Politologue has achieved, he does not have the class of Altior.

There is, as usual, great uncertainty over the likely runners in the Ryanair Chase and that is how it may remain until the declaration stage.

I quite like the look of Supasundae in the Stayers’ Hurdle. He has twice found the hugely talented Apple’s Jade too good for him this season, but he improved on their second meeting stepped up to three miles over Christmas and he won over the track at last year’s Festival.

With Apple’s Jade expected to run in the Mares’ Hurdle and Yorkhill having alternative targets, I think the 8/1 on offer for Jessica Harrington’s eight-year-old is reasonable each-way value.

Finally, moving along to the Gold Cup, the race is more open than the betting suggests.

Might Bite is now officially rated 17lb better than when he just beat Whisper by a nose in last season’s RSA Chase. He could not have a better profile for the race, with Nicky Henderson as his trainer and the gifted Nico De Boinville as his rider, but I just don’t see him winning the Gold Cup. I struggle to defend that view, but I am not convinced he has the mental focus to get up that final climb to the line over the extended 3m 1f.

Mind you I never expected Sizing John to stay the trip last year and I’m prepared to forgive his recent defeat in Ireland as the race came just 18 days after his return and followed two hard races in the spring.

We have still to see Native River back in action while Our Duke must also atone for his disappointing seasonal debut.

I still believe Tea For Two is overpriced at 40/1 – his form is within a pound or two of the principal contenders – while Coney Island and Road To Respect have recently staked their claims.

I am away for a few days next week and will have time to ponder the markets more carefully, but at the moment the two I like, non-runner no bet, are My Tent Or Yours in the Champion Hurdle and Supasundae for the Stayers, both each-way.

Bye for now