Matt Brocklebank rallies against the notion that antepost betting is an extinct pastime and nominates five horses he wants onside ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.
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Contrary to popular belief, antepost betting ain't dead.
That’s not just someone who occasionally writes a column named Antepost Angle peddling a line he wishes he still believes, but something I feel fairly strongly about.
It's alive and kicking for at least a couple of simple reasons and they are as follows: traders are humans with views of their own and still make decisions over odds compiling which clash alarmingly with other people's (often correct) opinions; and secondly, the non-runner, no-bet concession (NRNB) is obviously not to everyone’s liking given prices are shortened accordingly, but can still serve up significant value with little risk in the right circumstances and if the timing of the bet is correct.
And luckily, with a little over a month to go to the start of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, now strikes me as the sweet spot in which to get involved – somewhere between too far out to know enough about the likely participants in each race, and too close to overly mature markets which may ultimately offer more value on the raceday itself.
We have the vast majority of the form in front of us in black and white with one or two pieces of the puzzle to slot in, and yet there are some horses trading at prices far greater than they’ll be on the day simply due to the number of potential candidates still supposedly in contention at this stage.
'So what on earth are they?' I hear you mutter at your mobile. I hear you...
WATERLORD – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (50/1 NRNB)
Donald McCain obviously doesn’t have access to the ammunition he once had but he’s now put two highly encouraging seasons back-to-back in terms of overall winners as well as percentage strike-rate, following a significant slump in 2015/16, and few would argue he deserves more chances with high-class horses to showcase his undoubted talent.
The McCain name already sits proudly on the roll of honour for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle thanks to Cinders And Ashes' victory over Darlan in 2012 and he went into the Festival on the back of two wins at Haydock, completing his prep with success in the Rossington Main Novices' Hurdle at the Lancashire track.
Six years on and Waterlord was aimed at the same Grade Two contest after winning the very same small Haydock novice event Cinders won on December 30, and while things didn't go quite to plan for him, there are reasons to believe Waterlord can be excused and the decision to push him right out to 50/1 in the Sky Bet Supreme market looks wrong.
Firstly, he's a Flat-bred – a son of Cape Cross out of a Sadler's Wells mare and a half-brother to several winners on the level. He may have won twice on heavy ground over hurdles earlier this season but you just have to look back at his three bumper wins for John Ferguson to see how much he appreciates a decent surface. He could not live with the giant First Flow last time out and was looked after accordingly by Will Kennedy when his chance had gone.
That augurs well for his spring campaign and on top of that he gets a chance to prove the point in Saturday's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, where a mark of 135 appears to offer him every chance of figuring prominently.
It's delving back a bit but he was beaten just three lengths when fourth to Ballyandy in a Cheltenham bumper in November 2015 and that rival took last year's Betfair off 135, before going off 3/1 joint-favourite for the Sky Bet Supreme.
It's very hard to imagine a similar scenario unfolding with Waterlord, especially given the strength of Getabird at the top of the Cheltenham market, but a decent run at the weekend should put McCain's experienced, second-season novice somewhere back in the picture for the Festival opener, and at 50/1 I want him on side before he shows his true colours again.
If he's beaten, then chances are he may not be Supreme-bound after all and we'll be refunded on the day. See, didn't I tell you antepost betting isn't all bad?
WILLIAM HENRY – Coral Cup (10/1 NRNB)
Lowly-rated horses don't win handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival. They don't get into them anymore, it's as simple as that. As the list below indicates, Domesday Book was the lowest-rated winner at the 2017 Festival from 137 and six of the 10 races of this nature were won by horses rated 145 or higher, including a couple well into the 150s.
Last weekend's Irish Champion Hurdle hero Supasundae was a very classy winner of the Coral Cup from a perch of 148 and William Henry looks a Graded performer masquerading as a handicapper ahead of this year's edition.
It's not a great mask he's sporting either, having proved he was just that when following home Wholestone – beaten three lengths in receipt of 3lb – in last season's Grade Two Neptune Investment Management Classic Novices' Hurdle on Trials Day at Cheltenham.
Wholestone is now rated 161 while the third Poetic Rhythm, five lengths behind William Henry, is up to 148 and it doesn’t end there with fourth Topofthegame up to 150 after his recent success, fifth Elegant Escape rated 150 over fences and sixth Coo Star Sivola now boasting an official rating of 140.
Cheltenham Festival 2017 handicap winners
Un Temps Pour Tout - 155
Tully East - 138
Supasundae - 148
Flying Tiger - 134
Presenting Percy - 146
Road To Respect - 145
Domesday Book - 137
Arctic Fire - 158
Champagne Classic - 138
Rock The World - 147
Frankly, it's bombproof form and, after winning two of his three subsequent starts, William Henry has also done his bit to promote its strength.
The defeat came when pulled-up on his chasing debut at Cheltenham's November meeting but his trainer Nicky Henderson has a bit of previous when it comes to successfully aborting chasing campaigns and this horse won with some authority despite the narrow margin in the Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle at Kempton last month.
He's up 6lb from that to 151 and James Bowen's claim is now down to 3lb rather than 5lb, but it's hoped the budding superstar jockey keeps the ride in the Coral Cup as Willam Henry still looks ahead of the assessor. The standout 14s is tempting but I'd rather lock in the general 10/1 with the money-back concession as he looks like being potentially pretty short on day two if all goes well between now and March 14.
DOUNIKOS - RSA Chase (25/1)
Monalee looks a massive player in whichever race he contests at the Festival, but rather than recommend him at 9/2 NRNB for the JLT – the race for which his connections admitted he was under serious consideration following his Grade One Flogas victory at the weekend – I'm tempted into the RSA Chase market, where one of the horses he beat looks over-priced.
In fact, Dounikos has been considerably underestimated throughout his novice chase season so far, beating subsequent dual winner Monbeg Notorious (landed the Thyestes off 137 last time) at Gowran and fellow Gordon Elliott stablemate Tombstone at Limerick.
He was 28/1 and 14/1 for those victories respectively and again outran his SP when beaten under two lengths into fourth at 25/1 in Sunday’s Flogas.
It was a massive effort from Dounikos, jumping really well on the outside of the field towards the front rank and there was no fluke about it, despite possibly being favourably positioned tactically.
He'd looked slightly fortunate to win first time out over fences when Al Boum Photo fell at the last at Gowran, but this showed there wouldn't have been much in it, that rival finishing just a length in front of him in second at the weekend, and after just three starts over fences there should be plenty more to come from Elliott's charge.
He didn't scale the heights as a hurdler, looking lazy at times and reaching a peak mark of 123 in that sphere, but that's exactly the type of horse that tends to win the RSA Chase and he's clearly thrived since being faced with the bigger obstacles - like so many Gigginstown horses before him.
Stepping up to three miles is an unknown but the son of Smadoun, who sired Smad Place and Nacarat among others, looks to be crying out for a thorough test of stamina and the biggest danger here in regards to his target may be that he holds an entry in the National Hunt Chase over four miles.
But he looks made for the RSA and given the discrepancy in price with those offering NRNB (16/1 best), in this instance I'm happy to have a pop at 25/1 and live with the consequences if this doesn't end up being his race.
CLOUDY DREAM – Ryanair Chase (16/1 NRNB)
The Ascot Chase on February 17 looks a fantastic race in prospect and Waiting Patiently is obviously a horse just about everyone involved in the sport would love to see reach new heights and pick up a first Grade One success.
Malcolm Jefferson's sad passing has hit the northern circuit hard but hopes are high this horse can continue on the upgrade if getting his favoured soft conditions a week on Saturday.
If the ground happens to dry out and he doesn't take his chance then the Jefferson camp may well rely on Cloudy Dream instead and he's the one that fascinates me most with the Cheltenham Festival in mind.
He's always been a classy and consistent horse and, unlike stablemate Waiting Patiently, he's already 'done it' at Cheltenham having finished second to Altior in last year's Racing Post Arkle.
That was a fantastic effort and, having followed home Buveur D'Air at Haydock earlier in the season, it's fair to suggest it wasn't a flash in the pan, as a subsequent Grade One second to Flying Angel at Aintree and Grade Two victory over Theinval at Ayr further highlighted.
That Ayr win was his seventh start of a really tough season and it's encouraging he's been kept relatively fresh this time around, while his rock-solid consistency hasn't faltered either.
Seconds to Smad Place, Fox Norton and Definitly Red over distances ranging from two miles to three miles, one furlong show he's as good as ever and he's now had 10 starts over fences in total, winning three and filling the runner-up spot on the other seven.
His form figures over hurdles and fences at distances between two miles, two furlongs and two miles, four furlongs read 11212, so a Ryanair campaign makes a huge amount of sense for the eight-year-old and that looks the way he's heading in spite of an entry in this weekend's Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury over the best part of three miles.
Wherever he has his prep, it's highly likely he does himself proud once more and at 16/1 generally for the Ryanair, he's definitely one I'm keen to be with before this race begins to cut up, as it invariably does. If he wins his next start then he's surely got to be half his current price.
SANTINI – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (10/1)
The case for Santini winning the Albert Bartlett is a pretty obvious one but the reason he's a must for any antepost portfolio at this stage is that his price looks set to crash in the next couple of weeks, when he's all but confirmed for the race.
Put simply, he's the best horse entered – well, he is equally so based on official figures, along with Black Op whom he beat narrowly in Cheltenham's Ballymore Classic Novices' Hurdle on Trials Day - the race won by Wholestone last year.
That was the second start of Santini's life after he'd slammed stablemate and dual subsequent scorer Chef Des Obeaux on his Newbury debut on December 1 and three other horses, along with Santini himself, have come out of that race and won since.
With an official rating of 150 he's on precisely the same mark as last year's 13/8 Albert Bartlett favourite Death Duty was coming into the race and while it didn't exactly work out for him, it's a gauge as to how short Santini could become.
The Irish challenge will prevent a repeat as it looks extremely strong again – runners from Ireland have won three of the last four renewals – with the 148-rated Cracking Smart the obvious one if he returns to three miles as expected in March.
But he's been beaten on his last couple of starts and looks a vulnerable market leader on spring ground. Santini would also be an unknown on it, having done his winning on soft going so far, but his half-sister Dusky Legend loves top of the ground and Nicky Henderson feels he's been doing well in spite of the winter conditions.
He also described the six-year-old as an "absolute machine" which aren't words the legendary trainer uses too frequently and after playing down his prospects of running at the Festival in the immediate aftermath of his last run, Henderson was clearly warming to the idea at a recent press day, when comparisons were made with the yard's 2011 Albert Bartlett winner and subsequent Gold Cup hero Bobs Worth.
The double-figure quotes could look an absolute gift in four weeks' time.
Posted at 2100 GMT on 07/02/18.