The Long Game: Cheltenham 2015
David John picks out the value in the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup market with Champagne Fever fancied.
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We are all perhaps a little bit guilty of turning the Cheltenham Festival into the be-all-and-end-all of the National Hunt season but it simply never fails to deliver in terms of drama and excitement.
Another one is in the record books and with every chance of being accused of overkill, I thought it might be interesting to strike an early blow in the ante-post market for March 2015.
Two horses were suggested in last year's feature with the obvious aim of both making the line-up in 12 months, trading at shorter prices and us therefore having a realistic chance of collecting.
Invictus (50/1, Gold Cup) and My Tent Or Yours (10/1 Champion Hurdle) were the recommendations with the former unfortunately bitten by the injury bug again in December while it was only the neck of Jezki that thwarted a payout on Nicky Henderson's mightily talented performer.
And whilst in danger of following a horse over the proverbial cliff, I came awfully close as well to putting up MTOY once more at 12/1 for the Arkle Chase.
Having been narrowly trumped at the last two Festivals over the smaller obstacles, I have the feeling that a switch to fences might be the next step with him at the prime age of seven going on eight.
He has looked every bit a chaser right from his comeback run in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle but the early vibes from connections seem to be leaning more towards remaining over hurdles and having another crack at the Champion. I guess you can't blame them having been denied by just a few inches.
Plans are deceptively fluid though in this game and if there was a rethink at any stage then I would be keen to have him on side for the race at any double-figure antepost quotes.
But instead I am going to focus on the Gold Cup instead and a generous 20/1 chance at this early stage - Champagne Fever.
I thought his was the singular best jumping display of the week despite a narrow second behind Western Warhorse in the Arkle.
Ruby Walsh's stoic look said it all on pulling up after his mount missed out on winning for a third straight season at the Festival but after some quiet reflection, you can be sure that all connected with the horse realise this was a performance packed with promise for the future.
And that future now surely lies over a trip. Champagne Fever races with great zest and enthusiasm but that does not mean he will not scale even greater heights when stepped up in distance.
He was an impressive winner of a maiden point-to-point as a four-year-old at Quakerstown over three miles and has stamina built into his pedigree - one well-known racing publication assessed him as "clearly a thorough stayer".
Walsh has already spoken of how much he is looking forward to a potential shot at the King George aboard him (currently 10/1) and that race looks an obvious stopping-off point on the road back to Prestbury Park.
The Gold Cup is the one big race missing from trainer Willie Mullins' CV and having come so close with On His Own, the much classier Champagne Fever could at last be the answer to the puzzle for him.
Relatively recent Irish raiders Kicking King and War Of Attrition have both emerged from the Arkle to go on to glory in the Gold Cup 12 months later while this year's result highlighted that the current crop of hopefuls at this level are admirable rather than vintage.
Put it all together and that suggests Champagne Fever is well worth a long-term investment.