Value Bet Special: 2014
Value Bet tipster Ben Linfoot picks out five best bets for 2014, including three at the Cheltenham Festival.
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There aren't many blank days in the racing calendar. There are even less next year, of course, with Good Friday now a Great Friday if you're an all-weather fan. But for now there are four, with three upon us in the run-up to Boxing Day, the King George a festive treat made all the more special by the fact racing fans have been starved of equine action for 72 long hours.
But as long as you've got your Christmas shopping done, and you don't have to dash to Tesco for extra nibbles, these blank days are precious. For they allow us to peruse the ante-post markets without distraction. No 2.40 at Wetherby to get in the way of a good old gander at those RSA Chase odds.
So, without further ado, here are some thoughts on the best bets for 2014.
ROCK ON RUBY - ARKLE
Okay, okay, he only beat a 98-rated rival four lengths on his chasing debut, but Rock On Ruby remains grossly underestimated in the betting for this year's Arkle. For whatever reason, this horse does not seem to capture the racing public's imagination, but just one look at his Cheltenham Festival record makes him a strong contender in what looks a pretty average renewal. He's been a short-head second in a Neptune, a near four-length winner of a Champion Hurdle (in a great time) and a gallant runner-up to none other than jumping legend Hurricane Fly when attempting to retain his crown. That is some collection of Festival performances and I would not bet against Harry Fry priming him to perfection in March again despite the late change of plan to go chasing. The decision to swap hurdles for fences was understandable given the strength in depth of the Champion Hurdle contenders and the Arkle can't claim to have such quality. Champagne Fever is a worthy favourite but he remains high in the betting for both the Jewson and the RSA and would a late change of heart from WP Mullins really surprise? Granted, he looks likely to go for the two-miler, but him apart there is a distinct lack of worthy candidates. Hinterland used the benefit of his experience to win the Henry VIII and runner-up Grandouet, though better than on debut, doesn't scream Arkle winner. Presuming Champagne Fever does go for it you would think stablemate Felix Yonger won't - he looks Jewson-bound, while that race looks likely to be the port of call for Oscar Whisky and Taquin De Seuil too. Other than that you've only really got Dodging Bullets towards the top of the market and though he's looked good in two novice chases, it lingers that he's underperformed after Christmas the last two years. Rock On Ruby has consistently been a top-class Festival performer and though he needs a couple more chases under his belt pre-Arkle, he should get those, weather-permitting. At the prices he looks a cracking each-way bet.
MORNING ASSEMBLY - RSA
The RSA market is headed by Ballycasey, who has only run over two miles this season, and the second favourite is his supposedly Arkle-bound stablemate Champagne Fever. There just has to be some early value to be had and I think it comes in the form of Pat Fahy's Morning Assembly. The six-year-old is unbeaten in two starts over fences this campaign, gradually stepping up in trip after winning over two-and-a-half miles and then two-miles-six. Having won the Grade One Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle over three miles at Punchestown in April (seven lengths ahead of Ballycasey), staying is the name of his game and he looks sure to thrive once tackling a trip over fences. The form of his two chase starts looks very good as well. He beat Si C'Etait Vrai and Clonbanen Lad by three-and-three-quarter lengths and five lengths on his chasing debut, extending those winning distances to 21-and-a-half lengths and 12 lengths when meeting the same rivals over two furlongs further in a Grade Two at Punchestown on November 17. That emphasises his improvement over an extra quarter-of-a-mile and half-a-length behind him at Punchestown was the classy Don Cossack, who gave the form a real boost when winning the Grade One Drinmore in decisive fashion. Morning Assembly's jumped well and travelled well in his two runs this season and I haven't seen a better staying novice chaser on either side of the Irish Sea. A really exciting prospect, he looks to have all the tools to have a big say in the RSA and though one note of caution is he's only run on softer ground, I won't let such things worry me at this stage.
WONDERFUL CHARM - JEWSON
Clearly I'm obsessed with novice chasers as a third wraps up my best bets for Cheltenham with Wonderful Charm one to be on in the Jewson. He's looked a real natural over fences this season for Paul Nicholls and has been ultra-impressive in rattling up a hat-trick at Fakenham, Wincanton and Newbury before going down half-a-length to Oscar Whisky at Cheltenham when trying to give him 8lb. That could prove to be a very good effort if Nicky Henderson's charge reaches the heights he did over timber in the chasing game. His winning form looks good too. Fox Appeal, the horse who got closest to him during his hat-trick run, won the Grade Two novice chase at Ascot on Saturday by 10 lengths from Raya Star. All four of Wonderful Charm's starts over fences have been around two-and-a-half miles and the Jewson looks like being his Festival assignment, especially with stablemate Just A Par developing into an RSA horse. Again, the same can't be said for one or two of his rivals in the Jewson market and with Nicholls stating he'll be put away for a spring campaign, safe in the knowledge that he's got plenty of experience into him on his preferred ground conditions in the first half of the season, he looks a very solid option.
LESSTALK IN PARIS - 1000 GUINEAS
Finsceal Beo was the last filly to win the Prix Marcel Boussac and the 1000 Guineas, and though Lesstalk in Paris didn't win the former, she should have done. Jockey Ioritz Mendizabal (admittedly not helped by his wide draw) went off too fast on the daughter of Cape Cross and consequently couldn't hold off the late challenge of Indonesienne. However, the very fact the runner-up was only three-quarters-of-a-length off the winner at the line was to her great credit, as everything else that raced up with the pace faded tamely. Previously Lesstalk In Paris had overcome major trouble in-running to beat Andre Fabre's highly-regarded filly Straight Thinking, who was second to Sandiva in the PMU Prix du Calvados, pretty cosily in the Prix d'Aumale at Chantilly and a return to such hold-up tactics might be advised during her classic season. I'd be surprised if Boussac winner Indonesienne turned out to be a better filly than Lesstalk In Paris in the long run, and 20/1 about Jean-Claude Rouget's charge looks fair. Certainly, I'd rather back her at four times the price of favourite Miss France who had previously beaten Indonesienne at Chantilly. I've no idea whether Lesstalk In Paris is Newmarket bound, but I've found no evidence to the contrary and Rouget did bring Mashoora over for a crack at the 2012 renewal won by Homecoming Queen. That filly was sent off 13/2 for the first fillies' classic, and, if Lesstalk In Paris does make the same journey, she could well be a similar price on the day.
STATUTORY - ASCOT GOLD CUP
This one's a bit of a stab in the dark. I wanted to find a bet for midsummer and though Kingston Hill appeals for the Derby, I can't bring myself to back a horse at a single-figure price for a race that's six months away, even if he would be shorter in the betting if he was trained by Aidan O'Brien or Sir Michael Stoute. No, we'll go for one in the Ascot Gold Cup, trained last season by Mark Johnston but likely to be running for Saeed bin Suroor or Charlie Appleby by the time Royal Ascot comes around. Statutory is the horse, and prices in excess of 20/1 might be a tad generous about this up and coming stayer. He bolted up in a handicap off a mark of 90 at Chester in August when attempting two miles for the first time, before finishing fourth off a 10lb higher mark over two furlongs shorter next time. However, he resumed his upward curve back up in distance. A creditable second to classy stayer Caucus in the listed Jockey Club Rose Bowl at Newmarket came in September, before he powered to a 14-length romp over solid yardstick Mutual Regard over two-and-a-quarter miles at Pontefract. On those pieces of evidence, the son of Authorized looks an out-and-out stayer and a Cup horse in the making. Though Leading Light is a higher-profile four-year-old set to burst on the Cup scene in 2014, this fellow's progress is worth following too and he might not be a bad bet for the Ascot Gold Cup, a race that four-year-olds have thrived in in recent renewals.