Alex Hammond looks ahead to a quality day's racing on Saturday and feels she's got the value in the big betting race - Kempton's Lanzarote Hurdle.
Three mares could ultimately pose Buveur D’Air the most problems in this year’s Champion Hurdle. Would you be backing Verdana Blue, Laurina or Apple’s Jade at this stage in proceedings?
That’s a good question and not the most straightforward to answer. Do you go with the potential of last season’s leading novice mare Laurina, the proven form of Verdana Blue who has already beaten her stablemate Buveur D’Air, or hope that Gigginstown Stud decide the Champion Hurdle is the race for Apple’s Jade, after all? All three (if they line up in the race) would be in receipt of 7lbs from the males as mares receive a weight allowance on account of their sex. I think Laurina edges it for me as she is unbeaten since joining Willie Mullins from France just over a year ago and has so much power as she’s got the physique of a gelding. We didn’t learn much when she beat a rival rated 18lbs lower than her at Sandown in a match on her reappearance, other than she is in good health and good heart. She’s almost the unknown quantity in this league and has a very good chance of emulating a former Mullins inmate, Annie Power, in winning the hurdling crown. She’s 3/1 with Sky Bet (NRNB) to win the opening day Cheltenham Festival feature.
Does Tolworth Hurdle hero Elixir De Nutz float your boat for the Sky Bet Supreme? And what of his vanquished rivals at Sandown?
He does and I was delighted to see him win the Grade One, not least because I tipped him! Angels Breath is the antepost favourite for the Sky Bet Supreme at 6/1 with the sponsors, but you’d have to be concerned if the ground was good or thereabouts in March. He was taken out of his intended debut by trainer Nicky Henderson on account of good ground at Cheltenham in December in the race that was won by Elixir De Nutz, so the likely faster surface won't inconvenience Colin Tizzard’s grey. Elixir De Nutz also has top form on soft, as we saw in the Tolworth at the weekend, and whilst he’s more of a grinder rather than a flashy type, he looks extremely tough and genuine. He’s 10/1 for the opening race of the Festival and there are worse antepost vouchers to have.
Buywise was the only faller in the Veterans' Final at Sandown. Would he have won it again had he flown the last?
Probably and it was unfortunate as he had slipped back to his last winning mark. It’s frustrating for connections, but thankfully he may be able to make amends soon if the fall hasn’t knocked his confidence. I don’t know the stats, but I doubt you get too many fallers in these veterans’ chases as most of them are far too experienced and wily for that. So, it’s sad to see him crash out when he looked set to emulate last year’s flying finish in the race, but it helped continue the great run of form of the Venetia Williams stable as Houblon Des Obeaux was left with the race at his mercy. There’s no doubt that Buywise is a frustrating horse to follow, for one reason or another.
Let’s settle this one – should the veterans’ race be switched to the Cheltenham Festival?
I can see where you are coming from as these veterans are real old favourites amongst race fans and some of the recent running of the final were of sufficient class to stack up against a couple of the festival handicaps. Having said that, there are probably cases to be made for a few other races at the festival over and above this one and you have to draw the line somewhere. I’m against anything other than a four-day Festival as it ends up diluting what is an excellent product. If the veterans' chase switches to Cheltenham, trainers and owners would be well within their rights to ask for a mares' chase, a 2m4f championship hurdle race, etc etc, you get the picture.
Where should we be looking for a weekend wager?
At Kempton on Saturday we are in for a treat as Waiting Patiently bids to gain some compensation for being badly hampered and unseating Brian Hughes in the King George. That was desperate bad luck and he is set to go again in the two and a half mile Listed chase at 2.05. He’s highest rated in the field and I hope he can put that behind him and regain his winning run over fences. His trainer Ruth Jefferson says she has ruled out the Gold Cup this season as she is still none the wiser about his stamina for the trip at Cheltenham after the Kempton mishap and that is something we won’t learn any more about at the weekend. He’s 5/1 for the Ryanair Chase at the moment. With the likes of Top Notch, Charbel, Black Corton and Mister Whitaker amongst the entries he could well be a betting proposition (currently 2/1 with Sky Bet), let’s wait (patiently) to see who is declared. He may also need a bit of rain to take his chance as anything quicker than the current good wouldn’t be ideal.
The Lanzarote Hurdle looks wide open, but I’m keen on the chance of New Quay. I’m not too concerned about his latest run when he finished last of six runners at Newbury two months ago as he was turning out quickly under a penalty after winning easily at Ascot just five days before and the two mile trip may also have been inadequate for this point to point winner. It seems likely that two races in quick succession were part of his undoing there and trainer Dan Skelton has spoken highly of this horse in the past, so I’m not losing faith. It’s worth noting that Darling Maltaix finished behind him when he won at Ascot and at 6/1 is half the 12/1 on offer with Sky Bet for my selection, New Quay.
I see one of my favourite juvenile hurdlers from last season, Apple’s Shakira, is entered for the closing handicap hurdle at Kempton (she’s also in the Betfair Hurdle) and I’ll be keeping a close eye on Nicky Henderson’s mare if she lines up. She hasn’t run since disappointing when pulling up in a Listed handicap hurdle at Sandown in December when sent off favourite and has to put a couple of slightly below-par efforts behind her. She has been dropped a couple of pounds for her latest effort, which was her handicap debut, and is one to keep on the right side of as she could pop up in a decent race in the future.