David Ord profiles the five horses who look set to start the shortest-priced favourites at Cheltenham next week.
- The accumulator price on the below five horses is 29.87/1 with Sky Bet (odds correct at 3pm 11/03/2019)
BENIE DES DIEUX (OLBG Mares Hurdle: 10/11)
Quiz question. Name the only trainers other than Willie Mullins to have won the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle? Clue, there’s only two of them. Correct, Gordon Elliott in 2017 with Apple’s Jade. The other? Donald McCain in 2008 courtesy of Whiteoak.
If the betting is on the ball then the engraver can start work again on getting WPM up nice and early as last year’s winner Benie Des Dieux is a red-hot favourite for the 2019 renewal. We’ve not seen her all season – but that never stopped Quevega - and there’s no doubt she brings a boatload of confidence over from Closutton. She’s unbeaten for current connections, taking in the likes of Limerick and Carlisle before delivering a Grade One double in the spring at Cheltenham and Punchestown.
On the basis that – despite being left in this at the six-day stage – Apple’s Jade and Laurina go for gold in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Benie looks a cut above these. And even if she had an off-day, and she hasn’t yet, the same team have the perfect cover shot in Limini. Remember Glen’s Melody in 2015?
Engraver: get to work.
If you’ve been to a Cheltenham Preview Evening over the last couple of weeks, two things are a certainty. You’ll have been reminded that Altior traded at 8/1 in-running when landing last season’s Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and that Min is also a top-notch two miler.
Both are true. But for all his fleeting signs of vulnerability - think back to the two or three strides when Charbel looked like being hard to reel-in during the previous year’s Racing Post Arkle for example - he’s on an unbeaten run of 17 races over jumps.
And yes Min is good, very good, but he was seven lengths adrift of Altior in the 2016 Sky Bet Supreme and the same distance in last year’s Champion Chase. That’s seven lengths.
Any horse can be beaten – Big Buck’s' own record-breaking winning run ended at 18 and there’s no such thing as a certainty in racing. But if Altior arrives there on Wednesday fit and well, and touch wood there’s been no last-minute scare this time around, then we should have a watch-and-savour moment.
Next year his team are up for trying something different – a step up in trip, dipping toes in untested waters. But for now let’s celebrate his brilliance at two miles.
TIGER ROLL (Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase: 6/5)
Name the most under-appreciated horse in training? It would be a match between Buveur D’Air and Tiger Roll for me – with the latter getting the nod. Just look at his CV.
Victories in the 2014 JCB Triumph Hurdle, 2017 National Hunt Chase and last year’s Glenfarclas Chase at the Fez. Then there’s the small matter – a mere month later – of snaring the Randox Health Grand National in typically tenacious fashion at Aintree.
Here’s a horse to savour and he warmed up for the defence of his cross-country crown by landing the Grade Two Boyne Hurdle at Navan. He was there to blow the cobwebs away but yet again significantly surpassed expectations.
He’ll take the world of beating as he defends his crown at Prestbury Park. However, on a course that has a fence named 'Cheese Wedges' and more twists and turns than an episode of Midsummer Murders in its John Nettles pomp,dangers can emerge when least expected. But the Tiger always finds a way to roar.
PAISLEY PARK (Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle: 13/8)
“Never better than mid-division, behind from 6th, tailed off”. Not my words, but those of the Press Association race-reader in last year’s Albert Bartlett. His focus was Paisley Park who finished last of 13 in the Grade One contest.
Fast-forward 12 months and he’s 13/8 favourite for the Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle. It was a division waiting for something to emerge and take it by the scruff of the neck – and slowly, but surely, Emma Lavelle’s star has.
Owner Andrew Gemmell has been blind since birth but became hooked on the sport via the radio commentaries of the 1960s. His first ventures into ownership came in high-profile syndicates such as Million In Mind and Highclere but he then struck out on his own – and found Paisley Park.
Since that Albert Bartlett blow-out he’s won all four starts, starting in an Aintree handicap from a mark of 140 and culminating in a destruction of the best of the British stayers in a red-hot galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle on Festival Trials Day.
To coin a phrase often used by one of our leading racecourse commentators, he was “much the best” that day. It’s impossible to see any of those in behind reversing form meaning the dangers are heading over the Irish Sea.
Faugheen is seemingly the one. A former winner of a Unibet Champion Hurdle, he’s only twice raced at three miles, winning a Grade Three novice hurdle at Limerick in December 2013 and a Grade One prize at Punchestown in April.
However, he was last seen taking a heavy fall two out in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, tracking Apple’s Jade and yet to be asked any questions, at the time.
He’s a threat – but there’ll be no hiding place in the Stayers’ Hurdle this time and the thriving Paisley Park will ensure his esteemed challenger sees out every inch of the trip up the unforgiving hill.
It promises to make for a thrilling spectacle.
SIR EREC (JCB Triumph Hurdle: Evens)
They say timing is everything in life and the Martinstown team had it in spades when putting a deal in place to land Sir Erec prior to his run at Ascot on QIPCO Champions Day.
To be fair, friends in high places also help and it’s questionable whether the Coolmore massive would have been open to offers from other quarters for the then winner of a Curragh maiden and Limerick Listed contest.
He signed off in the purple and white silks with a third place finish in the QIPCO Champions Long Distance Cup at the Berkshire track, two-and-a-half lengths adrift of Stradivarius.
It seemed a Cup campaign beckoned at four, with murmurings of an international jaunt or two, but instead all roads led to Leopardstown and a couple of spins over timber.
He got the better of Tiger Tap Tap on debut in December but it was a six lengths win in the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle last month that put the cat among the pigeons. There was style and substance to a performance that ended with a six-length thumping of stablemate Gardens Of Babylon.
He showed a smart turn of foot there and there was plenty of petrol left in the tank. Joseph O’Brien is the rising star of the training ranks and in Sir Erec he might just have a flag-bearer for the years to come – through both the summer and winter months.