The Long Game: Cheltenham
The dust has settled on a thrilling Cheltenham Festival and with the markets already bubbling away in the feature races for 2014, David John looks at the potential movers and shakers.
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The term 'vintage renewal' flutters around the Festival like losing betting slips but the hurdling Blue Riband next year could well be worthy of the accolade. Hurricane Fly regained his crown to shut up the naysayers for the time being but he is going to be challenged by a host of exciting youngsters on a sharp upward curve. The New One showed a smart turn of foot to land the Neptune over a longer trip and would not be out of place dropped back in distance while My Tent Or Yours did nothing wrong in the Supreme when he only found Champagne Fever too strong up the hill. You can argue on the one hand that he is pure speed and may be best on a flat track but another year under his belt for his physique to develop may well prove the difference. It was Our Conor though who made the most striking impression with his rout of the Triumph Hurdle field by 18 lengths. He has the lot - a high gear to cruise round, electrifying hurdling technique and a striking change of pace when the button is pushed. The question is whether 5/1 represents anything like ante-post value for a race 12 months away. It is a copper-bottomed certainty his new owner will target this event while he has earned a higher rating than Katchit, who did the Triumph-Champion double in successive years.
Summary: I love Our Conor but I just can't bring myself to back or recommend backing him as the layers have taken no chances. At the prices, the 10/1 on My Tent Or Yours appeals more with the hill less likely to catch him out as his physical development progresses.
- 1pt win My Tent Or Yours in 2014 Champion Hurdle at 10/1 (Hills) - Near miss at the Festival this year and another year to develop makes him a big player.
- 1pt win Invictus in 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup at 50/1 (bet365, Stan James) - Has claimed the scalp of Bobs Worth and a potential forgotten factor in the race.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
The market suggests this race will be Sprinter Sacre's for as long as he wants it. You will not get any better than 4/7 for him to retain the title he took when brushing aside Sizing Europe with such a degree of disdain - BetVictor go just 1/4! There have been a handful of horses to win the two-mile championship in successive seasons but Badsworth Boy in the mid-1980s completed the hat-trick and I am sure Nicky Henderson has one eye on equalling if not surpassing that record. He has time on his side too as he is a year younger than when Michael Dickinson's charge began his winning spree. Stan James have Sprinter Sacre at 8/1 in their betting for next year's Gold Cup. All I can say is if it ain't broke why fix it? Henderson is responsible for current second favourite and Arkle winner Simonsig but why will he make any more improvement in relation to the Black Aeroplane with the pair the same age? The Flemenstar bubble has burst and he now falls into the category of the remainder priced up for the 2014 renewal - simply playing for places.
Summary: I can see Sprinter Sacre's task getting easier rather than harder as potential rivals try and find alternative targets at the Festival. He could well spend the next couple of seasons pummeling small fields into submission on the way to a place in the record books.
This is an intriguing or mystifying market depending on your point of view. The absence of Big Buck's opened the door for a new name on the roll of honour and the classy Solwhit burst through. The plan is for the latter to come back and defend in 12 months time and his price ranges currently between 8/1 and 12/1. The whole race clearly still revolves around Big Buck's, who was ruled out for the season just before Christmas. I guess the law of averages says that the injury bug was going to bite at some stage of his magnificent career and connections have hinted that the World Hurdle 2014 will actually be his comeback race. Some firms are prepared to lay 4/1 for him to continue his dominance but that is a price based more on his wellbeing rather than the challengers to the crown. At Fishers Cross is second favourite and the progressive novice in the mix but will need to continue in that positive vein if he is going to tackle a Big Buck's at or near his best. At least we know his stamina is not in doubt after a grinding win the Albert Bartlett over three miles whereas Zarkandar and The New One will have to prove they stay the trip when the speculation stops and racing starts. Smad Place has finished third twice and his attentions are likely to be switched to chasing.
Summary: Impossible to suggest anything bar sitting on the sidelines at this stage from a punting perspective. Solwhit would probably just get the vote at a double-figure price as there is scope for the each-way portion paying out at least. But I have no strong opinion.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
It is that man Nicky Henderson again and his Bobs Worth is no bigger than 7/2 to claim another Gold Cup after his thrilling exploits in beating Sir Des Champs and Long Run. Stamina was the outstanding quality required this year after the final afternoon of the Festival was lashed by persistent rain and having looked unlikely to feature at the top of the hill, Bobs Worth's reserves gained the day once the screw was turned from the home turn. So have the beaten horses on the day have a hope of turning the form around? Of course they have. If the rain ever stops, Sir Des Champs will be immeasurably more suited to less of a slog in the closing stages while Silviniaco Conti's exit at the third last while still travelling well enough robbed form students of the chance to see if he truly stayed this extended trip. At a year younger than Bobs Worth, he could be at the peak of his powers in 12 months. But the question mark over not seeing him come up the Cheltenham hill is enough to put you off at 8/1. Stablemate Al Ferof would likely have made the line-up as well but for being sidelined by injury. His chance to show his stamina reserves in the King George also went out of the window but this likeable young performer has always been considered a three-mile chaser in the making being out of the sire Dom Alco. He could well emerge as a threat although having something to prove at this stage explains why he has been priced up (best of 20/1) by just a couple of firms. If a horse were to emerge from the mists of time, it could be Invictus, who took the scalp of Bobs Worth in the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot the last time he was seen in public. He has also had a considerable length of time out with a leg issue but the safety-first policy by connections could well pay off as he will still only be seven when he is scheduled to return in the autumn.
Summary: Bobs Worth may well add his name to the list of recent horses to become multiple Gold Cup winners. No ante-post bet is without risk and Invictus carries his fair share but 50/1 in 50-odd weeks time could look a shrewd piece of business.