“It’s Christmas for horse racing fans…” they said in the radio this morning. How true a statement this is! Particularly the opening Tuesday is arguably the finest day the sport has to offer. This year is no different with the renewal of the Champion Hurdle shaping like a race for the ages.
Enjoy the sport and bet responsibly… a mantra we’ll also hear often this week. One I personally can’t emphasize enough: you don’t need to have a bet in every single race in order to love the magnificent show on offer over the next few days. In fact, you probably shouldn’t if you want to maximize your winnings.
Cheltenham is incredibly competitive. Horses are primed to run for their life. That should ensure enough opportunities to find value in the market. But: there are also plenty of races where little secrets are hidden. The never ending trail of preview nights, the mere fact that every little piece of information is chewed endless times now, means few details are still hidden from plain sight come Tuesday half past one.
It’s gonna be a much better strategy to identify those races where a few things are up in the air, where you find question marks about runners, particularly those near the top end of the betting, and where form is more difficult to judge for the random betting folk.
And most importantly: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s four days. It’s not the end of the world leaving Tuesday without a winner. A 20/1 shot in the Grand Annual could swing the pendulum right back into profit.
1.30: Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2m½f
There is little wrong with favourite Al Dancer. In fact, he is a bigger price I would have expected. What I don’t like about him is the fact you can easily question the value of his Betfair Hurdle success. It’s his best piece of form, he did it nicely, but so would have done most in this field.
Furthermore, Al Dancer is a rather free going sort, spotting a hood the last two times for that reason. Given the nature of the Supreme, there’s a relevant question to be asked: could the occasion get to him?
Lightly raced Angels Breath will have learned plenty from his recent Kempton runner-up performance. He is clearly talented having won a Grade 2 on his rules debut. Only two starts under his belt is a major concern, though.
The hype horse, judging the market and social media, is clearly Willie Mullins’ charge Klassical Dream. Easy to see why: he stepped up from a maiden to win a Grade 1, beating a well fancied stable mate. He’s a class act. I’ve slight reservations, though, over the likely soft ground, even though most feel he’ll be suited by it given he knows it from France. Let’s see that firsthand tomorrow.
I love the attitude of Elixir De Nutz. The Tolworth Hurdle winner goes for a four-timer. He’s a front-runner, though. It’ll be tough to make all in the Supreme.
Certainly not the forgotten horse, but the hype has slowed: Fakir D’oudairies. The only 4-year-old in the field. He looks quite forward, however, as you would expect for a French import.
He’s got experience on his side, looks physically strong, and JP McMaus took a punt on him after a 13 lengths romping over course and distance in January. He followed up on a fair maiden success at Cork, on his first start for Joseph O’Brien.
The form of both races is debatable. Nonetheless, the impression Fakir D’oudairies gave here at Cheltenham, leaving a rather decent 147 rated Adjali well behind him, is one of a significant talent. The weight allowance he gets is a massive help as well. Soft ground is sure to suit – I feel Fakir D’oudairie is the one to beat.
10pts win – Fakir D’oudairie @ 13/2 MB
2.50: Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase, 3m 1f
I missed the hype train, regardless, I remain firmly in the Willie Mullins camp here: Up For Review is still a tasty price at 10’s. He’s already a ten-year-old, but quite lightly raced for his age, with scope to improve over fences.
He was quite a good hurdler back in the day, given he won a Grade 2 Novice Hurdle and was 148 rated – he’s 2lb lower rated over fences currently and comes here with an incredibly strong piece of recent form to his name.
After a good 17/18 season as a novice, resulting in two wins, he made his seasonal reappearance in the Gowran Thyestes Chases. Up For Review was trailing the pace, which wasn’t an advantage that day. He jumped well, made stylish progress throughout but couldn’t match the speed of the eventual winner and runner-up, and probably got a little bit tired in the end as well.
However, a third place behind Gold Cup contender Invitation Only rates quite strongly, now returning to a handicap, with ground and trip likely to suit – even though he has slight stamina questions to answer as the last time at Cheltenham, in the 2016 World Hurdle, he was pulled up.
I’m aware Willie Mullins is yet to win this race, so that is a slight concern, whether his horses are in the right weight bracket to be successful. However it’s a new year and I strongly believe Up For Review is on a mark he’s well able to defy, as long as he gets home over 3 miles and the additional furlong.
10pts win – Up For Review @ 10.5/1 WH
4.10: Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle, 2m 4f
Benie Des Dieux is a poor favourite here. Yes, Willie Mullins has done it before, but this mare isn’t Quevega. Quite clearly she didn’t have the preparation connections had in mind and you can know holes into her form left, right and center.
I’m feeling a little bit uneasy backing her stable mate, running the same colours as well. But on ratings there is nothing between Benie Des Dieux and Limini. On official ratings there is a single pound separating them. And that despite Limini not having been at her best lately.
However Limini’s highest RPR is a 158 compared to Benie Des Dieux’s 152. Limini will need to find back to her best. Potentially she can do that at Cheltenham where she excelled in the past. Her 4th place finish behind Presenting Percy when last seen rates fair form too, albeit over 3 miles rather than the shorter 2.5 miles.
The ground will suit her tomorrow, and in truth, the fact she ran incredibly well, in fact winning, on the flat during the summer, currently rated a 103 there, shows she is still high class.
10pts win – Limini @ 9/1 WH
4.50: Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, 2m 4f
While I can clearly see the case being made for favourite A Plus Tard, he’s short enough in the betting. The two I favour here will both enjoy the cut in the ground while having some high class form to their name already, though, it seems less appreciated by the market.
Highway One O One is an experiences sort, who travels and jumps well, usually right up with the pace, who remains unexposed over this trip as well.
He was found out in graded company, but ran a massive race on handicap debut over course and distance here back in January. He made all from the front, setting a strong gallop while jumping for fun and was only caught with two out by classy Kildisart who is now a leading JLT chance.
Red Indian is the other one who appears overpriced. H seems harshly judged on his latest effort when unseating his rider as a 1/4 favourite. True, it’s not an ideal preparation; on the other hand he showed plenty of promise earlier, as his 4th place, albeit a good deal beaten, behind La Bague Au Roi, Topofthegame and Santini, leaving a subsequent Grade 2 winner a long way behind him, also.
He drops in trip here and it remains to be seen whether he has the pace. Every inch of rain will be appreciated, that is for sure. Nonetheless his 131 TS rating is the best on offer here, so at the price it’s worth to take the risk.
5pts win – Red Indian @ 22/1 MB
5pts win – Highway One O One @ 13/1 MB