Take the sweet 16s about Fago
Ben Linfoot picks out three ante-post bets for the novice chases at Cheltenham following the initial entries.
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There are 64 horses with multiple entries in the novice chases at Cheltenham. Sixty-four. Just to make ante-post betting on the Arkle, the RSA, the National Hunt Chase and the Jewson that little bit harder.
It's a real puzzle trying to decipher which horses will run where, especially when you consider where the top trainers with numerous horses in each race will deploy their troops.
Take Willie Mullins for example. He has nine in the Arkle, six in the National Hunt Chase, nine in the RSA and 11 (eleven) in the Jewson.
Running plans, as you'd expect, are up in the air. If it's soft, really soft, Back In Focus could run in the RSA, Boston Bob could go for the Jewson and perhaps, even, Aupcharlie could drop right back in trip and contest the Arkle.
And then there's Arvika Ligeonniere. Will Mullins really want to take on Overturn for the lead in the Arkle? Under pressure over two miles last time he jumped to the right frequently. Maybe he could run in the Jewson.
Unless there's a monsoon, though, Boston Bob looks likely to run in the RSA, Arvika Ligeonniere will probably line up in the Arkle, Back In Focus will in all likelihood go for the four-miler (unless he bypasses the Festival altogether) and AUPCHARLIE, in my opinion, will go for the Jewson.
And it's the latter that I'm interested in at a general 10/1.
Mullins has been quoted as saying this fellow is a better horse in the spring on better ground and on his only visit to the Festival he was third in the Champion Bumper, finishing ahead of Cinders And Ashes.
Yet he has been running with great credit in the soft winter ground this season, winning in heavy at Gowran on his reappearance before finishing runner-up on his last two starts.
Critics will point to his weak finishing efforts in those races, but both were over three miles in testing conditions and he jumped and travelled like a classy horse on both occasions.
In the Grade One Topaz Novice Chase at Leopardstown on December 28, won by Back In Focus, he pecked on landing after the last and that cost him the race. The soft conditions, too, played into the hands of his stablemate.
Next time at Naas he travelled and jumped very well once again, but had no answer to Tofino Bay who was another rival more suited to the heavy ground.
My theory is that his class got him as close as he did in those contests and if we do see better ground at the Festival, as you would expect even after the weather we've endured this winter, he'll prove himself to be a top-notch novice.
Hopefully that will be in the Jewson, as the drop back in trip to two and a half miles looks ideal too judging by the way he's travelled over three miles on his last two starts.
With Arvika Ligeonniere (Arkle), Fago (Arkle) and Dynaste (RSA) above him in the betting and likely to head to alternative assignments, the double-figure prices available now look worth taking.
While the Jewson ante-post list has a very open look to it you have to take on hot-favourites in the Arkle and the RSA if you're looking for a spot of early value.
Firstly, I have no qualms in taking on Dynaste in the RSA. I can't forget his two efforts over three miles over hurdles at Cheltenham where he shaped like a non stayer.
His form in staying novice chases this season is head and shoulders above the rest and he deserves his position in the market, but, I'm far from convinced a gruelling RSA Chase is what he wants.
Boston Bob could be the one to take advantage should Dynaste disappoint but it does worry me that he's had just the one run over fences at the time of writing.
Scheduled to run at Leopardstown this weekend (January 26), a flawless win will see his odds contract but at 7/1 after one victory over fences he's not for me.
Unioniste is difficult to judge as he was well placed to win the December handicap at Cheltenham but the feeling is that was his day in the sun while Rocky Creek and Back In Focus look better suited to the National Hunt Chase.
They all look either too short or the right price in the market for the RSA and at the odds I like HADRIAN'S APPROACH who is available at 40/1 with Coral.
This horse was well beaten by Dynaste in the Feltham and he has plenty of improvement to find if he's to get competitive with David Pipe's charge, but I reckon there's plenty of improvement in him and 40s seems too big.
His run at Kempton could be viewed as a confidence booster after he fell at Newbury on his previous start and he was tentative at one or two of his fences on Boxing Day, particularly the first.
While Dynaste was in a different league that day Hadrian's Approach quite comfortably won the best of the rest, creeping into contention on the inside and pulling six lengths clear of Third Intention.
That will have done him the world of good and with it being just his fifth start under rules he could still improve plenty.
Incredibly he's Nicky Henderson's only entry in the RSA Chase and he could go to something like the Reynoldstown at Ascot next time with a good chance of winning if he kicks on from his Feltham run.
Beaten horses in the Feltham have a good record in the RSA Chase and the strength-in-depth behind Dynaste doesn't look too deep.
He could prove to be one of the best staying novice chasers around this season and 40/1 looks worth taking.
I won't be having a bet in the National Hunt Chase at this stage as there are too many imponderables and I was going to leave the Arkle alone with Simonsig a worthy, if very short, favourite for the race.
But the more I stare at the 16/1 about FAGO the more I think it could be a good bit of business.
Paul Nicholls has spoken in glowing terms about this horse and he didn't disappoint on his British debut, putting in an accomplished round of jumping en route to an easy win at Newbury.
He showed plenty of speed that day and while his Festival assignment is up in the air at the moment I expect him to book his ticket for the Arkle when he lines up in the Kingmaker at Warwick.
A good win there will give Ruby Walsh a thing or two to think about with Mullins' Arvika Ligeonniere an Arkle possible, and if the best jockey in the business does plump for Nicholls' charge his odds will collapse.
Fago stayed further in France running over two miles and five furlongs on his last two starts there so he fits the bill as a 'speedy stayer' if that makes sense and I can see him just sitting off Overturn rather than dueling for the lead.
Simonsig could be in a different league, of course he could, but Fago has bags of promise himself and at 16/1 I think he rates a better bet than the odds-on favourite seven weeks before the race.