Cheltenham Musings

January 5th, 2024 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

Hi there!

May I start by wishing you all a very healthy and successful 2024.

Many people around the world will be keen to see the back of 2023, especially from a political and ecological perspective, but racing – famously described as the ‘great triviality’ by the late Phil Bull – remains an intriguing diversion for those of us fortunate to have it as an interest.

It is around now that the bookmakers’ reps start to flap around ante-post quotes for the Cheltenham markets but the days when people tried to build up a portfolio are now long gone. In fact I have not had a serious ante-post bet for years, and as far as Cheltenham is concerned I would not consider stepping in until the ‘non-runner, no bet’ concession is offered.

However the bookmakers’ lists do give us an early clue to the possible ‘shape’ of many of the fields, while this week saw the entries published for the Gold Cup, Champion Chase and Ryanair.

There are 20 entries for the Gold Cup. Corach Rambler, who has twice won the Ultima Handicap Chase off 140 and then 146, is expected to run here before another crack at the Grand National while stable companion Ahoy Senor, who is also entered, is more likely to tackle the Ryanair.

Other less obvious entries are Coral Gold Cup winner Datsalrightgino, Gary Moore’s 34-lengths’ Coral Welsh Grand National winner Nassalam and Paul Nicholls has entered his dual-novice chase winner Stay Away Fay. The lightly-raced 10-year-old Monkfish is also entered.

One notable absentee is Noble Yeats, who ran second in a 2m 4f hurdle at Limerick over Christmas.

Galopin Des Champs is now a top price of 11/10 following his impressive 23-lengths’ defeat of Gerri Colombe in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown with Fastorslow, who has twice beaten the favourite, next best at a top price of 4/1.

I would not be advocating a serious involvement at this stage but the ones that may offer a little bit of value are Shishkin at 12/1 and, if the ground is good, King George winner Hewick at 16/1. L’Homme Presse, not seen in public since unseating his rider in the 2022 King George, could also become of interest at 16/1, while I have something to say about Corach Rambler a little later.

There are 19 entries for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, among the more interesting Joe Tizzard’s Amarillo Sky, the lightly-raced Ferny Hollow and Peter Fahey’s Visionarian.

The market is headed by El Fabiolo, at a top price of 5/6, with Jonbon next best at 11/4. Dinoblue, who beat Gentleman De Mee at Leopardstown over Christmas, is next best at prices ranging from 6/1 to 12/1, with Edwardstone next at 20/1 but more likely to tackle the Ryanair.

A total of 32 horses are entered for the Ryanair, including December Gold Cup Chase winner Fugitif, Millers Bank, Notlongtillmay and Shan Blue among them.

Looking back at the King George, I am not convinced that Shishkin would have won but for his mishap after jumping the second last. He was not powering away from Allaho and Bravemansgame at the time while Hewick was coming with a strong late surge that could have seen him find another length or two had it been required.

Also on the subject of the Gold Cup, Corach Rambler has a stronger case than his current odds of 25/1 reflect. His defeat of Fastorslow, albeit in receipt of 4lbs, in last year’s Ultima now reads very well in the light of that horse’s subsequent form with Galopin Des Champs, while he has won on each of his three visits to the track. His style of racing – held up for a late challenge – will also suit the race and he is, of course, an assured stayer having won the Grand National.

Bye for now