Marten’s Perspective: Opportunities For Backers

December 6th, 2013 | Marten's Perspective

The bookmakers seem to be showing little signs of discernment in their response to the performances of this season’s leading Champion Hurdle contenders.

The New One was cut from around 8/1 to 7/2 after beating Rock On Ruby by 10 lengths at Kempton in October. Then, last weekend, My Tent Or Yours was shortened to as low as 7/2 after doing no more than was expected of him in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle. The following day Jezki was only workmanlike at Fairyhouse but was kept at his pre-race price of 8/1.

We still have Our Connor, steady at 5/1, to see back in action over hurdles while the one they all have to beat is reigning champion hurdler Hurricane Fly, the winner of 19 of his 22 starts over hurdles including no fewer than 17 Grade 1 races.

For me the bookmakers should be betting around 5/1 the field, with Hurricane Fly the strongest given his superb record at the highest level.

There was a time, not that long ago, when I would enthusiastically put together a portfolio of ante-post bets for the Festival, but these days there are so many concessions and benefits offered to punters in the build-up to Cheltenham that it’s probably better to hold fire until nearer the time.

My ante-post bets last March proved very costly and this year my only bet has been to take 8/1, to small money, on The New One for the Champion Hurdle having advised him for the race in my Dark Horses Guide.

The incentives for punters to keep their power dry until nearer the time has never been more compelling.

For a start the prices do not shorten that much between now and then. For example neither the Champion Hurdle nor Gold Cup will fluctuate that much unless a leading contender were to fall by the wayside.

Furthermore, most bookmakers offer a ‘non-runner, no bet’ concession about a fortnight before the meeting starts while others offer enhanced odds to a limited sum of money.

For example last season, albeit to just £25, it was possible to back Sprinter Sacre at evens with Ladbrokes and then lay it back on the exchanges at around 1.3.

As for more substantial betting, the ‘non-runner, no bet’ concession is a major benefit and one which has to be taken seriously.

The other advantage of waiting until nearer the time is that one can be confident about the state of the ground. I am not sure that even on the day we knew how the ground was riding there last March. Confirmed mud larks were winning but the times were relatively quick.

If I were to be looking to back a horse at this stage it would be Champagne Fever.

This seems a fairly obvious point to make, as the grey has twice galloped up the hill to win at the Festival, but he looked an absolute natural on his chasing debut at Punchestown last month and the 5/1 on offer for the Arkle Trophy was, for a moment or two, quite tempting.

The problem facing prospective backers is that connections may prefer to aim him at the Jewson, even though Arkle winners in the past have previously shown an aptitude for further than two miles.

Now that the horse is down to 7/2, and also for the reasons mentioned earlier, I am prepared to wait and see how things look nearer the time.

With regard to the Arkle we have the likes of Dodging Bullets, Oscar Whisky and last weekend’s impressive winner Valdez to consider. The last named was justifiably hiked up 17lb following his 24-lengths victory in a course record time.

It may be worth looking for an each-way alternative to Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Nicky Henderson’s star performer is currently dominating the market at 1/3 and 1/4, but it’s now in the public domain that he has had at least one wind operation and it will be interesting to see what he will find if a rival ever manages to get him off the bridle.

Simonsig, at 7/1, would be the obvious substitute while Flemenstar could return to his best back at two miles. Captain Conan may need further than two miles while the others need to improve.

Simonsig’s season is on hold due to a splint on his near-fore. He has been given sessions in the spa but Nicky has already warned that he will have no hesitation on pulling the stumps for the season if things don’t go smoothly. Simonsig produced a dirty scope after winning the Arkle last season so, for all his talent, things have not been easy for him.

Taking it all into account, if Sprinter Sacre were to miss the Champion Chase the race would take on a very open look.

With respect to the Gold Cup, I am inclined to ignore the run of Bobs Worth at Haydock. Connections suggested afterwards he was unsuited to the track and ground but, for me, he was beaten too far out for that to be the case.

My feeling is that the horse was simply not right. A handful of Nicky’s horses have apparently scoped dirty this autumn, and although we don’t know if that is the case with Bobs Worth he was not, for whatever reason, at his best on the day.

I am pretty confident that we will see him back in tip-top shape for the Gold Cup, for which he is now available at 5/1.

Bye for now

Marten Signature