Royal Ascot 2018 – Tuesday

2.30 Royal Ascot – Queen Anne Stakes

I’ve already backed Deauville ante-post and I’m happy with that position. I still feel he’s a fair price at 16/1 especially with the books going four places. As for today, at the prices, I still feel RHODODENDRON is a fair bet in what is an extremely open race.

I didn’t think she’d have the pace to win the Lockinge at Newbury, but she showed great adaptability and heart to get the job done. Now she’s got proper miling conditioning and competition on her back, on this stiffer course, she can go close for Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore.


1pt win Rhododendron @7/2 (bet365, Sky Bet)

3.05 Royal Ascot – Coventry Stakes

It’s always tricky knowing what side of the track to be drawn on when they compete on the straight course. There looks a useful spread of speed across the line, but very high or very low look best and the former just comes out on top.

With that being the case, at the prices, the two I want on my side against the field are COSMIC LAW and THE IRISH ROVER. I’m a big believer in experience for juveniles, it’s often the difference in winning and losing at all levels they race at.

This pair have run three times and that could prove telling on what will prove to be a totally new experience for these young horses. Both travel well, should enjoy the quick ground and have a touch of class.


1pt each-way Cosmic Law @10/1 (Sky Bet 1,2,3,4,5)

1pt each-way The Irish Rover @12/1 (Sky Bet 1,2,3,4,5)

3.40 Royal Ascot – King’s Stand Stakes

Make no mistake about it, on their best form Battaash and Lady Aurelia are comfortably the best horses in this year’s renewal. Of the two, Lady Aurelia is probably the safer bet given she saves her best for this track. Battaash is the better horse of the two, but he can be frail mentally pre-race and boil over. There is so much pace on in this race it could set-up for a late closer.

With that in mind, MABS CROSS is worth a bet each-way to run into the frame. Michael Dods’s filly has a progressive profile, she’s getting better and better with racing. She often shapes like a stiff five furlongs would suit and she gets that here.


1pt each-way Mabs Cross @16/1 (Sky Bet 1,2,3,4) or 18/1 (general)

4.20 Royal Ascot – St James’s Palace Stakes

Another competitive race to get stuck into here with most of the field in with a realistic chance of winning. The Guineas, Irish Guineas and French Guineas form all clash and I’m siding with the Newmarket version.

TIP TWO WIN did incredibly well to run second behind Saxon Warrior, while finishing in front of the Derby winner Masar and the Dante victor Roaring Lion in the 2000 Guineas. He may be a touch flattered by the bare form in that he looked a miler against middle-distance horses, but he deserves credit given he came from a poor enough early position on a track he didn’t look in love with.

I also can’t resist a small bet on Gabr at 18/1. He finished just behind the race-favourite on his seasonal debut, but, is a much bigger price. I think he’ll love getting on this firmer surface given his strong travelling ability. I have a small doubt about his will to win, but that price is too big.


1pt win Tip Two Win @6/1 (general)

0.5pt win Gabr @18/1 (Betfair Sportsbook, Bet Victor, bet365, Paddy Power)

5.00 Royal Ascot – Ascot Stakes

COEUR DE LION looked an unlucky loser when second at Chester on his last run. He went through the race in great fashion, travelling well throughout. In that run he was quite wide at various stages and in the latter part of the race got shuffled back towards the rear of the field when trying to make his challenge.

He stayed on nicely late and in the end, was an unlucky loser. Hopefully he settles a bit better today and gets a cleaner run through.


1pt each-way Coeur De Lion @7/1 (Paddy Power, Sky Bet – 1,2,3,4,5)

5.35 Royal Ascot – Wolferton Stakes

A rating of 106 probably underestimates the progressive SHARJA BRIDGE who really impressed me when just being beaten at Newmarket’s Guineas meeting in a high-quality handicap. Him and the winner came four lengths clear of the field, looking graded animals.

On just his sixth career start with a quality pedigree, there should be more to come, especially if he strips fitter for his seasonal debut run 45 days ago. I have a small doubt about him over today’s step-up in trip on a stiff track, but his ability to travel and quicken will be suited by the fast ground.


1pt win Sharja Bridge @13/2 (general)

Ante-post focus: Queen Anne Stakes

This season’s older milers look a pretty ordinary bunch to my eye so, at the prices, Aidan O’Brien’s DEAUVILLE looks a value contender to potentially beat stablemate and favourite Rhododendron.

He has four-and-half lengths to make up on the mare after their recent clash in the Lockinge Stakes, often the best trial for this race, but there is a case to say he should get closer. Heading into the Lockinge, Deauville had an interrupted preparation. He flew to race in America on May 5th only to be declared a non-runner due to heavy rain. Just two weeks later he competed at Newbury and ran well to be fifth.

Deauville’s sound course and distance form in last year’s renewal in a stronger race is also a positive. Some horses may not take to the Ascot test and surface, but in finishing third last year he probably produced his career best effort. Coming into a weaker race this time round, he looks overpriced.

Finally, the Queen Anne could turn into a messy affair this season; there appears to be little pace on and with Deauville a confirmed front-runner and prominent racer, he could be in a better early position than most to strike for home. Ideally, a strong gallop with him getting a lead would be perfect, but either way, he’ll be put in the race earlier than most.

The faster the ground, the better his chance, which can’t be said of too many in here and with that being the case, the race could cut up further at declaration time.


1.5pts each-way Deauville @20/1 (Ladbrokes)

Cheltenham 2018 – Day Three

1.30 Cheltenham – JLT Novices’ Chase

I’m hoping we can kick off day three of the Cheltenham Festival in style with INVITATION ONLY. For me, he’s comfortably got the best form on offer. He’s a horse that travels well, jumps fine in the main and has a progressive profile this season. Today’s race looks a slight drop in class compared to his fine third in the Flogas Novice Chase last time out. The minor step back in trip is another positive, and if he runs to that level again, he’ll be tough to beat for the inform Willie Mullins team. He should be shorter in the betting.


2.5pts win Invitation Only @100/30 (general)

2.10 Cheltenham –  Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle

The British horses may well struggle to contain the Irish challenge in the Pertemps Final. Although they are to the fore in the market, I still think there is juice in the prices of GLENLOE and SORT IT OUT. Both had eyecatching and nice preps for this race, and the pair should be at home on the ground. If one horse has the potential to make a mockery of his mark, it’s Glenloe and he’s the stronger fancy of the pair.


2pts each-way Glenloe @11/2 (Paddy Power – 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt each-way Sort It Out @17/2 (Sky Bet – 1,2,3,4,5,6)

2.50 Cheltenham – Ryanair Chase

I wanted to take on Un De Sceaux in this about three weeks ago, but so many horses have come out of the race through injury it’s a much easier contest for him to win, as his price suggests. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but at the age of 12, CUE CARD is the horse I think will give him most to do. One of National Hunt’s greatest, most-loved and toughest horses of the modern era, he continues to run to Grade 1 level despite his advancing years. The ground has come right for him, and if there is any chink in the favourite’s stamina, he may well capitalise and bring the house down.


1pt win Cue Card @5-1 (general)

3.30 Cheltenham – Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle

The soft ground could see the likes of Bacardys, L’Ami Serge, Penhill, Supasundae, The New One and Yanworth swimming late on. Apart from Penhill who may not be fit enough to do himself justice, the other quintet, to various degrees, have stamina doubts on the prevailing ground.

He’s yet another obvious selection, but SAM SPINNER really does look to have a great chance. Given underfoot conditions, I’ve no doubt he should be shorter in the betting. He’s trained by a relative unknown in Jedd O’Keeffe – especially when compared to Elliott, Henderson and Mullins – but the northern-based handler has done an outstanding job with his charge this season.  He brings him here fresh, which is a bold call, but he’s gone well off lengthy breaks before and can go close.

There are also doubts about WHOLESTONE seeing out the trip late, but he may still stay better than most. He’s a horse that travels well, jumps fluently and has plenty course form. He could well be travelling best turning for home, I just hope he can last out. Out at the prices, without the favourite, he’s a big price.


1.5pts win Sam Spinner @100/30 (general)

1pt each-way Wholestone ‘betting without Sam Spinner’ @14/1 (general)

4.10 Cheltenham – Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase

This really does look a bad renewal of The Plate and it could go to the race’s class horse, THE STORYTELLER. He’s yet another that comes from that Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown when he finished behind Monalee and on that form, he looks fairly treated. He lacks experience, and while he’s not a really slick jumper, he’s pretty safe. Keep an eye on how Invitation Only runs in the first, because he represents that form.

At bigger prices, coming here fresh, WILLIE BOY could outrun his price. He’s a forward-going front-runner and a bold jumper who I think may well be best after extended breaks. He was really tough in winning at Newbury earlier in the season before flopping next time out, the race coming too soon after a tough victory, I suspect.


2pts win The Storyteller @7/1 (general)

1pt win Willie Boy @14/1 (general)

4.50 Cheltenham – Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

Willie Mullins’s odds-on favourite Laurina will be tough to beat, but take her out of the equation, and CAP SOLEIL looks to have a fair chance. Earlier in the season, I was really impressed with her victory at Newbury. She’s reportedly in great order and could chase home the fav.


1pt win Cap Soleil ‘betting without Laurina’ @4/1 (general)

5.30 Cheltenham – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase

The ground has come right for SQUOUATEUR in the sense it will slow down the race tempo and help his jumping. He ran a cracker in the competitive and valuable Paddy Power Chase at Christmas before getting an interesting prep for this race over two miles last time out. The Paddy Power form is solid and he was doing all his best work at the end. It may be a similar story here.


1pt win Squouateur @11/2 (general)

Cheltenham 2018 – Day Two

1.30 Cheltenham – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

Day two opens with an absolute cracker. Exciting novices Black Op, Duc De Genievres, Next Destination and Samcro are all set to clash. Samcro is being hailed as horse racing’s next star, but this will be the biggest test of his career, and he’s not really a working man’s price at 4/5.

Black Op is a lovely big horse, but he may well have been better suited by the New Course so, one of the Mullins horses may chase home the favourite. At the prices, DUC DES GENIEVRES looks the each-way value bet.

He must make up 4 lengths on Next Destination on his run two starts back, but despite Ruby Walsh deserting him, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see him reverse the form. That day he was in a much inferior position to Next Destination and he shaped like needing the run on his first start for Willie Mullins.

He has since improved for that effort, when finishing second to Samcro in the Deloitte, and may well do so again now he steps back up in trip.


1pt each-way Duc Des Genievres ‘betting without Samcro’ @6/1 (bet365), 11/2 (Paddy Power, William Hill), 5/1 (Sky Bet)

2.10 Cheltenham – RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase

Another top-class race, this time the novices going over fences. This is a real Britain versus Ireland clash, but the Emerald Isle bunch are favoured, with their form looking slightly classier. I couldn’t really put anyone off Presenting Percy, but I’d worry the tacky ground could blunt his class.

I respect the ability of Al Boum Photo and Dounikos, but this undulating track may test their jumping, which on occasion can be less than fluent, so the smooth-leaping and strong-travelling MONALEE is taken to come out on top at the prices. One thing this horse does do is jump well, and I could see him having plenty of the field at it approaching three out. I just hope he can hold on late.


1pt win Monalee @7/2 (general)

2.50 Cheltenham – Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle

A typically competitive Cheltenham handicap to contend with here. My two against the field are TOPOFTHEGAME and ROYAL VACATION. The former looks the more solid of the pair, but the latter is a big price considering he looks well-handicapped on his chase form.

Paul Nicholls has his team in good order at the moment, and the giant Topofthegame will adore the very soft ground. He was set to go over fences this season, but it just didn’t work out for him, having fallen on chase debut. It will prove to be a blessing in disguise. What I like about his two subsequent hurdle runs is how slicker his jumping was. He was sticky at Kempton, but more fluent at Kempton. On ground that could prove to be very tacky today, he should plough through it better than most.

For a horse reverting to hurdles like he did last time out, I was impressed with how solid-looking Royal Vacation’s jumping was. He was well-beaten in the Relkeel Hurdle in the end, but shaped much better than the distance suggests. He’s subsequently had a breathing op, and if that improves him, his price will look massive.


1.5pts each-way Topofthegame @12/1 (general – use firms paying extra places)

1pt each-way Royal Vacation @22/1 (general – use firms paying extra places)

3.30 Cheltenham – Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

This race is what Cheltenham is all about. The best of the best taking each other on. Britain versus Ireland. And in the modern Cheltenham story, Henderson vs Mullins.

I can’t stress enough how good Altior, Douvan and Min are. Politologue is no back number either and the fact he, a 160-rated horse, is 14/1 tells you the level the aforementioned trio operate at.

It’s a race I’m going to watch, but if you want to have a bet, at the prices, Min is the one I’d plump for.


Just make sure you watch this race!

4.10 Cheltenham – Glenfarclas Chase

These cross-country races are always an interesting spectacle, and given the unique test, horses with experience around the track are worth their weight in gold. The ground being so soft means CAUSE OF CAUSES was potentially worth taking on, but I didn’t expect him to be 7/2.

On much quicker ground, he’d be a significantly shorter price, but the cross-country track at Cheltenham always rides quicker than the main tracks, so it may just be dry enough to see this wonderful three-time Festival winner get home.


1pt win Cause Of Causes @7/2 (Betfair Sportsbook, bet365, Paddy Power)

4.50 Cheltenham – Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

My two darts in the Fred Winter are ACT OF VALOUR and NUBE NEGRA. The former is flat-bred, but he’s built like a National Hunt horse – robust and strong-looking. In a field against mainly still developing types, his precocious nature and ability to handle soft conditions could see him go close. To be fair, he’s got sound form anyway and his trainer Paul Nicholls said he’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t run well.

Nube Negra’s jumping has taken my eye this season, especially at Cheltenham. In a race made of inexperienced animals, this fluent ability will be an asset.  He’s another with sound form on soft ground and looks to be going the right way.


1pt each-way Nube Negra @12/1 (Paddy Power – 1,2,3,4,5)

1pt each-way Act Of Valour @12/1 (Ladbrokes – 1,2,3,4,5)

5.30 Cheltenham – Weatherbys Champion Bumper

A really tough closing race to finish day two. If you fancy Blackbow, Rhinestone or Acey Milan, don’t let me put you off, but at a much bigger price, I’ll be backing MERCY MERCY ME each-way.

Back in November, he beat a horse I backed called Classic Ben at Sandown. Turning for home, I was counting my money as my bet travelled all over the field. But the further the race went on, the better Mercy Mercy Me looked and in the end, he was a ready winner.

Having watched the replay a few times, to beat a horse of Classic Ben’s quality, giving him weight, while looking extremely green, suggests to me Mercy Mercy Me is a horse of great potential. He’s got a quality pedigree too, and he won’t mind the ground.

His trainer Fergal O’Brien has had a great year with his bumper horses, and the fact he runs him here, suggests this lad could be his best. He’s really likable and looks way overpriced. I just hope he’s more streetwise today.


1pt each-way Mercy Mercy Me @25/1 (general – Sky Bet 5 places, bet365, Paddy Power 4 places)







Cheltenham 2018 – Day One

Well, it’s here, the 2018 Cheltenham Festival and I can’t remember a time where I’ve never looked forward to it, apart from this season. To a degree. The heavy ground has really sunk me as it’s just not the type of going these high-class horses should be running on at this time of year. The form will mean little going forward, especially trying to gauge novices for next season’s Festival.

But enough of my bitchy moaning. I’m sure all that will change if we happen to win a packet! Enjoy the four days and best of luck to everyone.

1.30 Cheltenham – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

I can see why Getabird is favourite, but whether or not he deserves to be so short in the betting, I’m not sure. I couldn’t put you off him, but two value bets lay in FIRST FLOW and WESTERN RYDER. The former will adore the heavy going, he’s a real relentless galloper and that’s the type of horse you’ll need today. The latter has a touch of class and is a bit of a forgotten horse. He ran a cracker to be fifth in last season’s Champion Bumper and bits and pieces of his form this season mean he should be at least half his current price.


1pt each-way First Flow @14/1 (bet365 1,2,3,4) @12/1 (Bet Victor 1,2,3,4)

1pt each-way Western Ryder @33/1 (Betfred, Bet Victor, bet365 – all 1,2,3,4)

2.10 Cheltenham – Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase

Despite only 5 runners, this is a cracking little race. Brain Power, Footpad, Petit Mouchoir and Saint Calvados are all high-class novice chasers. The ground has gone against Brain Power however, and being a smallish horse, I’m not sure Petit Mouchoir will jump as well as he can out of it – it will all just be a bit harder for him. I couldn’t put anyone off Footpad, who has looked electric this season. He meets a real dark horse in SAINT CALVADOS who doesn’t have the same type of hurdles form as him, but the way he has been destroying fields on bad ground this season has really impressed me. He’s a big horse who jumps well and the safer bet looks him without Footpad.


2pts win Saint Calvados ‘betting without Footpad’ @6/5 (Paddy Power), @11/10 (bet365)

2.50 Cheltenham – Ultima Handicap Chase

At the prices, my two against the field are SHANTOU FLYER and VINTAGE CLOUDS. Both come into the race in good form and will hopefully handle the bad ground better than most. The former is maybe a touch high in the handicap, but he’s got a brilliant 3lb claimer aboard in James Bowen and that will help. Vintage Clouds is a proper galloping type who was very unlucky in the Welsh National when he was nearly brought down and then made a bad mistake at the next fence. His jumping looked better last time out at Wetherby so hopefully he’s going the right way now.


1.5pts each-way Vintage Clouds @9/1 (bet365 1,2,3,4,5)

1pt each-way Shantou Flyer @16/1 (general – use 1,2,3,4,5 bookmakers)

3.30 Cheltenham – Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy

The big race of the day and it looks Buveur D’Air’s to lose, as the prices suggest. Even though Faugheen is a stone below what he was before he injured himself a couple of seasons ago, I still respect his chances, but at the prices, I’m going to side with the younger and hopefully more progressive legs of Willie Mullins’s other horse MELON. Before he ran below par last time out, he had looked highly progressive. That was maybe just an off day and with Willie Mullins saying, “He’s good and strong and will go on the ground”, he’ll do for me.


1pt each-way Melon ‘betting without Buveur D’Air’ @6/1 (general)

4.10 Cheltenham – OLBG Mares’ Hurdle

Even my degenerate ass won’t be having a bet in this, but I hope Apple’s Jade wins.


Drink tea and eat biscuits during the build up

4.50 Cheltenham – National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase

The Irish trio of Rathvinden, Jury Duty and Mossback head the betting, but for various reasons, I’ll take them on. Rathvinden may well hate the ground while to my eye, Jury Duty and Mossback have disappointed with their finishing efforts on bad going. In fairness, some of those have come in good races, but my two against the field are SIZING TENNESSEE and the mare MS PARFOIS. I have to admit, I’m worried about the ground for the former, but in terms of ability I think he is comfortably the best horse in the race. He’s got a good man on his back in Barry O’Neill and I’m hoping he’ll be able to hunt him round. The mare looks to have an outstanding chance. She has a real touch of class, is a fantastic jumper and will have no problem on the ground. The 7lb she gets over this trip is a lot of weight, and while you can never be sure of a horse staying this distance on this type of ground, she may well excel for it.


2pts each-way Ms Parfois @8/1 (Coral – 1,2,3,4), @7/1 (Bet Victor, Paddy Power – 1,2,3,4)

1pt win Sizing Tennessee @8/1 (general)

5.30 Cheltenham – Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase

A competitive novice handicap to finish day one, and I couldn’t put anyone off one of the favourites, Mister Whitaker. He looks to hold a decent chance, but there is no doubt he picked up the pieces late last time out so I’m going to swing the bat with two big-priced horses in IBIS DU RHEU and BALLYHILL. The former won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at the Festival two years ago before going over fences last season. He didn’t manage to win, but he ran plenty of top races. He’s well-bred, lightly-raced and I’m hoping he could be a better horse this season. He’s trained by a good man in Paul Nicholls, and his horses are running well. Ballyhill looks well-handicapped on his run behind North Hill Harvey earlier in the campaign where he looked to love jumping. He’s won on heavy ground around here although I think he’s better on nicer sod, and while he disappointed last time out, he’s a big price to bounce back today.


1pt each-way Ballyhill @22/1 (general)

1pt each-way Ibis Du Rheu @25/1 (general)

2018 Gold Cup ante-post preview

Twenty-seven horses remain in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase on Friday 16th March, all chasing National Hunt’s Holy Grail. First prize of £355,938 will go the way of the winner, but this race is about so much more. The Gold Cup is THE race the vast majority of owners, trainers and jockeys want to win.

Run over 3m 2 ½f on Cheltenham’s New Course, like most Championship races, this is a test of class, stamina, speed and heart. This year’s field will bid to join true great racing names like Kauto Star, Denman, Imperial Commander, Long Run and Don Cossack, five stars to taste victory in the last ten years.

As the Festival moves ever closer, we assess this year’s field from an ante-post perspective.

Cheltenham Gold Cup ante-post preview

Quite rightly, last year’s outstanding RSA winner, Might Bite (4/1) is current ante-post favourite and it’s hard to see that changing unless we get soft ground. Might Bite’s victory at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival can only be described as brilliantly insane.

Having lead his field for most of the contest, he was 15 lengths clear coming to the second last. He looked brilliant. Having jumped the remaining two fences, the son of Scorpion then veered sharply to his right, put the brakes on and started to idle badly.

Moments later he was a half-length down on Whisper, but somehow managed to rally and claw back victory. Insane. To do as such, meant there was a fair bit of petrol left in the tank. It was an amazing performance. From here, Aintree was next, where a more straight-forward win saw him beat Whisper readily.

This season Nicky Henderson’s horse has only run twice, winning a Listed Intermediate Chase at Sandown with ease from Frodon before going on to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton. The form of the King George is a little tough to weigh up, and differing opinions can easily be made and well respected.

My gut feeling immediately after the race, with Bristol De Mai, Fox Norton and Whisper running well below par, was it was form to be weary of. That may well still be the case going forward as the race has yet to be truly tested.

In the end, I had Might Bite running to around 165 in victory –  a very good number, especially, if like me, you believe he idled badly up the straight and wasn’t in peak condition. Come March, on hopefully even quicker ground, there is no reason to say he can’t improve on that figure.

He jumps fine, travels strongly and is as classy a horse in the field.

Depending on which bookmaker you bet with, there isn’t much between last year’s Gold Cup hero Sizing John (6/1), and year’s third, Native River.

One of the great ironies of last year’s Festival was Sizing John stepping out of the shadow of Douvan. The former is now a Gold Cup winner while the latter is yet to taste victory in a Championship Cheltenham race, on top of his Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Arkle successes.

Seven times Douvan and Sizing John had clashed over the years and seven times Douvan had Alan Potts’s number. But while Douvan fluffed his lines through injury on Wednesday in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Sizing John immediately came out of his old foe’s shadow in winning the Holy Grail. It was now Sizing John 8 -vs-7 Douvan.

His smooth and ready success over Minella Rocco, Native River and Djakadam was done in the style of a Gold Cup winner throwing back to the Kauto Star days. It was just pure class that won him the race. Travelling strongly, jumping economically and quickening were the hallmarks of his near 3 lengths victory.

He showed he could battle when going on to win at Punchestown five weeks later before being put away for the current campaign. This season started in tremendous fashion with the son of Midnight Legend beating Djakadam by 7 lengths in the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.

Eighteen days later he would flop badly at Christmas however, trailing in 32 lengths behind Road To Respect in the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Chase. It was an awful run, there is no getting away from that, but I’d be confident it was due to his John Durkan effort coming too soon in a top-level race. That Punchestown race had clearly taken plenty out of him.

Not too long after the Christmas disappointment, Jessica Harrington said her stable star would go straight to the Gold Cup after being freshened up. Given how lacklustre he was over the Festive period, this approach could well pay dividends and be a priceless piece of management.

A similar fresh campaign has been given to Native River (13/2) this season. While Sizing John has run twice, this eight-year-old has only had the one start. Colin Tizzard’s relentless galloper had a massive 2016/17 campaign, winning three races including the Hennessy and the Welsh Grand National.

He was unlucky not finish second in the Gold Cup last year, just being chinned late having made much of the running at a decent pace. He was no match for Sizing John in the 2018 renewal, but there is every chance he can get closer and maybe even reverse the form.

The son of Indian River took a big step to achieving that when winning the Grade 2 Denman Chase for the second successive season on his seasonal debut. OK, he beat a non-stayer in Cloudy Dream and a nowhere near fit Saphir Du Rhea back in third, but it was done by 12 and 24 lengths, respectively.

More importantly, it was good to see him travel well, jump nicely, move as fluently as ever, and find off the bridle – the further he went, the better he looked, although that’s understandable in beating a non-stayer.

With age on his side, coming in fresh and looking as good as ever, he must be respected.

With course and Festival form, Road To Respect (10/1) will surely be on most people’s shortlists? While he has yet to prove as classy as fellow Irish peer Sizing John, the fact the son of Gamut comes here at the top of his game shouldn’t be underestimated.

After last season’s brilliant 6 lengths victory in Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase, Noel Meade’s stable star has only tasted defeat once, when he was a gallant second to Outlander in the Champion Chase a Down Royal.

In the interim, he has defeated such names as Yorkhill (where he was clearly a fortunate winner), Sub Lieutenant, Minella Rocco, Zabana and also revenged his defeat over Outlander, when winning the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Chase.

Returning to a left-handed track and getting on some nicer ground saw him produce a career best at Christmas when beating my Ryanair fancy Balko Des Flos and Leopardstown lover Outlander, wearing a first-time hood.

The Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding has had a modern-day Gold Cup preparation which will see him come to Cheltenham fresh. His record suggests that’s no negative so this seven-year-old, from the immediate family of a Gold Cup third in Road To Riches, looks to hold extremely solid claims.

Finally, of those horses to the fore in the betting, Our Duke (9/1) is the last to get a significant mention. He’s another from the Jessica Harrington stable, and another eight-year-old – like Sizing John. Amazingly, well, for me anyway.

He was a Grade 1-winning novice chaser last season, his victory in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase looking decent form now. So too is his second to the classy but fragile Disko in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase over an inadequate trip, but the highlight was obviously his 14 lengths destruction job of the 2017 Irish Grand National field.

That was a huge display, so good, he would finish the campaign officially rated a pound less than his stablemate and Gold Cup winner, Sizing John, as a novice. Some feat! This campaign started in disaster however, when he was well-beaten behind Outlander and Road To Respect at Down Royal; a poor post-race scope and therefore illness to blame.

Surgery on his back would follow before he made a highly-encouraging and belated return to the fray in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, where a bad peck two out cost him dearly. At the time, it looked like he was getting slightly outpaced, but whatever your opinion on that, he certainly shaped better than the 16 lengths beaten.

That step in the right direction was the catalyst for Grade 2 success over Presenting Percy in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park next time out. This came on his favoured soft ground (officially heavy), and giving the current RSA favourite 7lb and a beating is no mean feat on paper. It at least sees him firmly back on the right path.

The horse most prominent in the betting I want to be against at this time is Killultagh Vic (10/1). First and foremost, that looks an extremely skinny price, for several reasons. One, his form doesn’t look good enough. Two, he’s a horse who has had serious injury problems in the past. Three, I’m not sure he jumps well enough, and four, I’d be worried about him staying.

Definitly Red (16/1) will have no issue with the trip, but on decent ground, the race may well be over by the time he crosses the line. So much of his form has come on proper soft ground, I worry will he be taken out of his comfort zone on a faster surface? He also looks short on class in a competitive Gold Cup.

This year’s Blue Riband looks a stronger race than the 2017 running, meaning Minella Rocco (20/1) may struggle to repeat last year’s second. Having been held-up in the race, he possibly ran on past beaten horses and was ultimately flattered. The fact he struggles for consistency is another concern. I’ve never really warmed to him despite knowing, on his day, he’s a class individual.

The Willie Mullins pair of Djakadam (33/1) and Total Recall (16/1) are avoidable too at this juncture. The former is a top-class horse on his day, despite lacking the desired victories on his CV. The plus point is he appears to save his best efforts for this very race, but he comes into this year’s renewal on the back of a desperate run – by his standards – in the Irish Gold Cup, where he looked 20lb below his best. Maybe this was down to the lacklustre gallop in which he set.?

Mullins’s Ladbrokes Trophy winner Total Recall has been in great order this season, winning all three races, but I think he needs to improve another stone to win here, and I just don’t feel he has that in the locker. He’s a horse who can be keen and he won’t get away with that in this company.

Similar comments apply to yet another Closutton inmate in Bachasson (50/1), but he’s a horse who potentially has the scope to improve, although a stone is maybe asking a bit much. He has looked a different horse this season – his two wins at Thurles and Tramore coming in great style. While the case, this would be a significant step up in class over an unknown trip. He’s worth bearing in mind later in the season and even next year, however; he’s a horse on the right path.

So too is the miracle horse, Edwulf (25/1), who looks drastically overpriced compared to Killultagh Vic. His victory in the Irish Gold Cup at nicely backed 33/1 will no doubt be among the highlights of this season given his miraculous near-death recovery at last season’s Festival, but I’m just not sure he’s good enough, yet. He may improve again for better ground, but this contest could come as a shock to the system compared to the slowly-run Grade 1 he won last time out.

The one horse that looks overpriced with top-class recent form in the bag and appears to be on an upward curve is Double Shuffle (40/1). His close-up presence behind Might Bite in the King George originally saw me question the form, but having gone over it all again, I don’t think there was any fluke about the effort, and the form will (hopefully) stand up.

OK, he must go and run to a similar level once more to solidify proof of that statement, and there is a chance Kempton is his ideal track, but given he’s an eight-year-old with a classy enough pedigree with few miles on the clock and is still relatively unexposed over three miles plus, there is potential for this scenario to play out.

There is even an argument that his King George effort could be marked up given how wide he was for the near entire duration of the race. There is also a chance he is flattered to get as close to Might Bite, but the price discrepancy is too big given 1 length separated them at the line.

Finally, speaking of wide trips in top-class races, Saphir Du Rheu (100/1) got a pretty average ride in last term’s Gold Cup when only beaten 6 lengths by Sizing John, and just three behind the likes of Minella Rocco, Native River and Djakadam. He was also closer to the good gallop than most. On this run alone, he looks criminally overpriced.

Paul Nicholls’s inmate has a reputation of being a nearly horse – and that’s fair enough – after his trainer built him up to be his stable star many seasons ago. Success didn’t come early, but to be fair to the grey 2016/17 saw him put down some solid foundations for further progress.

He’s only a nine-year-old and he comes into the Festival on the back of a well-beaten effort behind Native River in the Denman Chase, but he shaped far, far, far better than the distance beaten on his first run back from injury.

The Final Verdict

A superbly competitive Gold Cup to look forward to this year, should all the main protagonists make March 16th. So many horses are coming into the race fresh which potentially reinforces competition. A fresh field of horses has the potential to see many run their races.

This is especially the case of those to the fore in the betting. Might Bite, Native River, Sizing John and Road To Respect, granted decent conditions, will have few excuses on the big day.

In any race, the ground will prove vital, and this Gold Cup is no different. Should we encounter a similar surface to last term’s renewal, I’d be against Our Duke. I have no doubt he’s a classy horse, but I just have a small suspicion slowish sod gets the very best out of him and he could prove vulnerable on good going at this level. His tough prep on heavy ground also makes him stand out negatively from the aforementioned fresh crowd.

At the same time, while against him on a quick surface, a soft ground running would make him and Native River the ones to beat, on form.

Working on the basis of decent going, I’m not sure any of those to the fore in the market will shorten appreciatively. On ground similar to last year, I’d be surprised if one of Might Bite, Native River, Sizing John or Road To Respect don’t win. Hardly a bold statement!

We already know Sizing John has the “X-Factor” to win a Gold Cup, and for me, there’s only one other horse in this field with that, and that’s Might Bite. If we get good ground, he’ll go very close, but that’s a sizeable ‘if’ given we are over two weeks away, especially when you consider the current Beast from the East passing through the UK.

That rhetoric also means I don’t see any particular value in playing Native River, Sizing John and Road To Respect. Native River and Sizing John have proved their worth in a Gold Cup, and also proved their stamina. If there is one variable Road To Respect could just fall short on, it’s staying. The better the ground, the better his chance – that old throwaway line applies to him.

So, at this stage, DOUBLE SHUFFLE and SAPHIR DU RHEU look the value bets. The former will need decent ground to see out the trip, but given he’s shown a similar level of ability to Road To Respect, I’d much rather chance him at four times the price, given both have identical potential stamina issues. Oddly enough, both also wear hoods while racing.

Saphir Du Rheu will be at home on most going, but he’ll need a much cannier ride to improve on last season’s gallant fifth. Hopefully the Nicholls team go out and ride him like he can win, and just creep their way round down the inner.

Both are bold shouts, I appreciate that, but my line of thinking is this; I can back maybe two horses to the front of the betting at fairish prices to win OR I can take a bolder each-way value approach on horses with top-class efforts in the hope of one hitting the frame and getting a similar return.

We’ll see how it all plays out. Good luck!


1pt each-way Double Shuffle @40/1 (bet365, Coral, Sky Bet, Unibet – all NRNB)

1pt each-way Saphir Du Rheu @100/1 (Bet Victor), 80/1 (Coral, William Hill – both NRNB)


















2018 Stayers’ Hurdle ante-post preview

One of Thursday’s highlights at the Cheltenham Festival – along with the Ryanair Chase – is the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle over 3m on the New Course. As you can imagine given the course and distance, stamina and class are the two most sought-after assets.

Sadly, last year’s game and gutsy winner Nichols Canyon won’t be back to defend his crown having suffered a fatal fall at Leopardstown over Christmas. Willie Mullins’s charge was a real favourite of mine, and given this year’s renewal, would have gone very close to back-to-back successes.

His absence will be missed in what is an open year for staying hurdlers. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the main contenders.

Stayers’ Hurdle ante-post preview

At the moment, Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae (4/1) correctly heads the market. He was a ready winner of last season’s Coral Cup – a handicap – at the Festival and has just continued to progress. He was in a better tactical position than most in winning here in 2017, but subsequent form has brought him out of handicap company into Grade 1 races, leaving no doubt to him being flattered in his Festival success.

Since March of last year, the son of Galileo has only raced four times, all coming in top-level races. Last season’s backend Stayers Liverpool Hurdle effort behind Yanworth was no fluke as his two placed efforts behind Apple’s Jade this campaign proves; firstly, on his 2017/18 seasonal debut in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle and then again at Leopardstown in Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle.

The 11 lengths beating he took over 2m4f in the Hatton’s Grace was down to just half-a-length come Christmas, this time over 3m, but it came in a race that didn’t test stamina. Next time out, he surprisingly dropped to 2m in the Irish Champion Hurdle.

Here, he would beat Faugheen, outstaying him late to be a ready winner. That’s the best form on offer for this race this season, and probably the reason he is the race-favourite.

As stated, the horse that beat Supasundae in last season’s Stayers Liverpool Hurdle was Yanworth (5/1). Alan King’s stable star went to Aintree on the back of a miserable run in the Champion Hurdle, a race where he was sent off 2/1 favourite behind Buveur D’air.

“The Orange Machine” recouped his losses somewhat at Liverpool before he was put away for a chasing campaign this season. Said campaign has been hit and miss, hence the reason connections have correctly chosen to revert to hurdling.

Form figures of 1F21 over fences don’t read too bad to his credit, but the son of Norse Dancer just hasn’t fully convinced with his jumping. At times he could be brilliant, but he could also be unconvincing – there was just no rhythm or consistency.

I’ve always rated Yanworth, he’s a likeable horse who tries hard and his hurdling form of 2016/17 is solid. While the case, whether he is fully at his best over this 3m trip remains to be seen. He’s a horse who continues to split opinion, but there is no doubt about it, he deserves everyone’s full respect here.

The horse with the potential stamina kryptonite to the aforementioned pair is this season’s Stayers’ Hurdle big improver Sam Spinner (5/1). Rated 136 coming into the campaign, Jedd O’Keeffe’s stable star is now officially rated 164. Some going in three races!

Having finished second in a red-hot Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle on seasonal debut at Chepstow, the son of Black Sam Bellamy then bolted up by 17 lengths in the Grade 3 Betfair Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock. A step-up to Grade 1 level came at Ascot in the Long Walk Hurdle where the strong-travelling bay fended off the quirky L’Ami Serge and last season’s Stayers’ Hurdle third, Unowhatimeanharry.

This victory solidified his rise to the top, and while he got the run of the race under Joe Colliver, there was absolutely no fluke about it; he went a nice gallop and maintained it late. Whether or not he is value for his new lofty rating of 164, remains to be seen. 158 is a fairer reflection of his ability, but with him being just six-years-old, there must be a significant chance of more to come.

On this season’s form, The New One (12/1) should probably be shorter in the betting. His price suggests that he’s almost certainly a non-stayer, but while stamina must be proven, his class will take him a hell of a long way on a track he loves.

Apart his second to Buveur D’air in the Christmas Hurdle, his other three efforts this year have probably seen him run to around 160. That puts him right in the mix, in terms of ability, with all those ahead of him in the betting.

Earlier in his career, he did win the Grade 1 Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f, beating a former Champion Hurdler in Rock On Ruby. Nigel Twiston-Davies’s inmate has only had one go over further and that came at the backend of last season at Sandown over 2m5f. He was well-beaten there, but that was at the end of a long campaign and is probably not an accurate guide to his endurance limitations.

He’s by a strong stamina influence in King’s Theatre so given his class, he’ll get my respect, for all going an extra half mile in this company could prove a step too far for a horse now aged ten.

The younger legs of Penhill (10/1) are interesting given he was a pretty impressive winner of last season’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle over this course and distance. There was maybe a slight suspicion of him picking up the pieces late, but given he travelled much wider than the runner-up (Monalee) and the third (Wholestone) throughout, to win like he did, was striking.

He then went to Punchestown and ran a gallant race to be second in another Grade 1, but hasn’t been seen since. Indeed, there were early reports of him being out for the season, but that’s obviously not the case given his entry here.

He’s owned by a gambling man in Tony Bloom, and goes well fresh, so should he run, he’d have to be respected.

The Simon Munir & Isaac Souede-owned pair of L’Ami Serge (12/1) Wholestone (16/1) deserve positive mentions. The former is a talented, but highly quirky horse who needs holding up and delivering late.

He can also be keen and hang/jump left, but he’s got extremely solid Cheltenham Festival form figures of 432. Hitting number 1 is probably out of his reach this season, but he does look to have strong each-way claims.

Wholestone ran a cracker to be third in last season’s Albert Bartlett behind Penhill. He shaped better than the distance beaten of 7 lengths suggests. Nigel Twiston-Davies’s charge just looked to be one-paced or maybe outstayed in the closing stages, while pulling 8 lengths clear of the fourth.

In his Festival prep in the Cleeve Hurdle over this course and distance, it was very much a similar story. Again, like in the Albert Bartlett, he travelled with great enthusiasm and looked set to go close, but he faltered late.

I’m not sure if he’s a bit of a monkey, there’s a breathing issue of small proportions or he was just outstayed, but he’s certainly a horse that catches your eye.

Elsewhere down the entries, not many really convince for varying reasons. Another ten-year-old and last season’s third in this race, Unowhatimeanharry (14/1) started his season well enough at Aintree, but his subsequent runs at Newbury, and especially at Ascot behind Sam Spinner, fully suggest he is a horse on the wane.

He’ll come to Cheltenham fresh, and Harry Fry have might his team in better order – he may even have had a wind op in the interim – but he needs softish ground to show his best and at this stage is an easy duck.

Last year’s gallant runner-up in this contest, Lil Rockerfeller (25/1) is in a similar boat to Unowhatimeanharry. As a seven-year-old, he still has age on his side, so his performances this season have dumbfounded me. He appears to be a stone below his best, for whatever reason.

To be fair to La Bague Au Roi (20/1), she has been in great form for the Warren Greatrex team compared to the above pair, winning three on the spin. She’s one that is guaranteed to stay the taxing trip, and could even improve on better ground, but I’m just not sure she’s good enough to be taking on the boys. She could well run a career best and finish sixth.

The Worlds End (25/1) has been disappointing this season, for whatever reason so it’s hard to see him winning on current form. He looked set to run a big race in last year’s Albert Bartlett before coming down two out. He went on to win the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, but that form hasn’t really sparked.

Finally, a throwaway mention for Faugheen (16/1), who is still entered in this race. I may well be on my own, but I don’t think it’s totally mad to suggest he could run here should certain circumstances play out, albeit it’s small a chance. This is a horse who has won an Irish point-to-point over 3m and a Grade 3 Novice Hurdle in Ireland, on the bridle, on heavy ground, again over this race’s trip.

There is absolutely no doubt he can stay and with me being of the opinion he’s a stone below what he was pre-injury, and his lethal finishing kick gone, could he be targeted here with Min running in the Champion Hurdle, should Douvan make the Champion Chase? It’s mad, I know, but non-runner no bets concessions give you a great safety net.

The Final Verdict

A competitive renewal of the Stayers’ Hurdle with bookmakers going 4/1 the field. Of the leading trio of Sam Spinner, Supasundae and Yanworth, slight preference would be for Supasundae ahead of Sam Spinner and then Yanworth.

Supasundae brings the best form into this year’s race, but that came over 2m, and there is a small doubt about him getting outstayed late in the Stayers’. He’ll need the weather to be kind, as the better the ground, the better his chance. This is also true of Yanworth.

Softer going brings Sam Spinner into it even further, and should Cheltenham produce taxing conditions, it significantly enhances his chance. Why? Well, it will bring his guaranteed staying prowess into play, blunt the others’ class and relieve the slight worry I have about his ability to handle “quick” ground. He does have a knee action and it’s just something to bear in mind.

That trio, depending on conditions, will hardly contract much further in the betting, should the main protagonists make it to Prestbury Park healthy.

The New One has looked as well as ever this season and is overpriced, but the last ten-year-old horse plus to win the Stayers’ was back in 1986. I could see him running well, very well, but he’s just not the type of horse I want to risk when stamina is an issue.

I try and stay away from horses without proven stamina when I can – I like to get a run for my money with my money – and for that reason, I’ll step away.

To further insult The New One, the ante-post value to my eye appears to be WHOLESTONE, a horse who will stay better this season at the Festival, granted nicer ground than he encountered in the Cleeve Hurdle. I just can’t get out of my head how well he travels into contention when on song.

His finishing effort sometimes lacks, but maybe he’s just a horse that still needs to strengthen up? If the case, I think he’ll outrun his price of 16/1.

Finally, with the non-runner no bet concession there, FAUGHEEN should also be backed. Yes, he’s a ten-year-old like The New One, but he’s no ordinary ten-year-old and he’s not trained by an ordinary man.

If he runs, he won’t be 12/1. If he doesn’t, we get our money back.


1.5pts each-way Wholestone @16/1 (Betfair Sportsbook – Non- Runner No Bet)

1pt win Faugheen @12/1 (bet365 Non- Runner No Bet), 10/1 Betfred (Non- Runner No Bet)













2018 Ryanair Chase ante-post preview

Run over 2m 5f on the New Course, the Ryanair still has its detractors, but like I say every year, it’s a race I like and it’s a race I’ll continue to enjoy. Since its inception back in 2005, the contest has only grown stronger and stronger.

Some of the biggest names in jumps racing have won the Thursday Grade 1; greats like Imperial Commander, Albertas Run, Cue Card, Vautour and last season’s hero, the wonderfully gallant and tough Un De Sceaux.

The latter named looks like he’ll be back this season, but is Willie Mullins’s inmate beatable at the age of ten? On paper, the 2018 renewal looks extremely competitive. Below, we’ll take a closer look at the field.

Ryanair Chase ante-post preview

Un De Sceaux (7/2) winning last season’s Ryanair Chase was one of the most jaw dropping and fun races I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t quite up there with Our Conor’s Triumph victory or Vautour’s JLT success, but it wasn’t far behind.

Having run away with Ruby Walsh before going out on the final circuit – making the great jockey look like a passenger – the tearaway’s relentless performance had his field cooked and beaten four from home.

Given the brisk fractions he set in the early and middle parts of the race, it was natural for him to tie-up a touch close home, but he never looked remotely like getting beaten, his speculator jumping applying further pressure on his rivals. He was value for more than his 1 ½ lengths success.

Willie Mullins’s charge has understandably only raced twice this season – his free-going character meaning he rarely has an easy race, connections correctly choosing to keep him fresh – and they have produced facile wins in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork and the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, a contest he won for the third year in-a-row.

Both have come on his favoured soft surface, but to be fair to the ten-year-old, he’s shown plenty times at Cheltenham, faster terrain doesn’t deter. He’s not getting any younger – none of us are – but he remains in great order.

While the case, on paper, and depending what turns up, he’ll need a career best, but he’s not too far below the level of last season and there is every chance, given his trainer, he’ll be peaked for March once again.

Depending where you look, Fox Norton (11/2) appears to be the favourite’s biggest danger. Colin Tizzard’s stable star had a fantastic campaign last season despite picking up an injury mid-way through. He was just touched off in the Champion Chase before he went on to Aintree and Punchestown to win Grade 1s.

He started his 2017/18 campaign well, winning the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham by 8 lengths before just being beaten half-a-length in the Tingle Creek at Sandown where poor tactics and some hesitant jumps cost him.

The son of Lando was then asked to back up 17 days later in the King George at Kempton – a race I stupidly backed him in – but this run clearly came too soon after Sandown and he was pulled up. While it’s admirable connections had a go, taking up their plan ‘B’ clearly backfired.

We haven’t seen Fox Norton since that dismal effort, but I have no doubt he’s a lot better than that. Obviously. There is more to come, but it would be nice to see it on the track. More positively, the step back up in trip here will be a big plus for him. There is no doubt he can win the Ryanair, but connections must get him back in good order.

Being out of form is something Top Notch (11/2) hasn’t experienced this campaign, Nicky Henderson’s pocket rocket being two for two since switching back to the larger obstacles having started the season with a hurdles prep behind Unowhatimeanharry at Aintree.

His next run saw Grade 2 success in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot in beating Double Shuffle and Frodon by 8 and 10 lengths, respectively, now looks like top-class form with the former finishing second in the King George and the latter bolting up off 149 in a competitive Cheltenham handicap.

Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s horse is not even close to being flattered by that victory. He oozed class at Ascot and simply had too many gears for horses now rated officially rated 166 and 164. If you believe those numbers – I’m still sceptical – there is a school of thought that the seven-year-old should be favourite.

Three weeks later he added the Peterborough Chase to his CV although he was workmanlike in doing so. A quick turnaround from a big Ascot effort and slower ground may have been to blame, but even so, his Ascot run marks him down as a bold player for this contest.

At the current stage of entries, Willie Mullins has a strong hand. The Irish Champion Trainer houses the current race favourite, but has also entered the likes of Bachasson, Douvan, Min, Killultagh Vic and Yorkhill.

Douvan, Min and Yorkhill have been discussed in previous blogs – the Champion Hurdle piece and the Champion Chase piece – but Bachasson and Killultagh Vic haven’t. It remains to be seen if both run here – the same can be said for the other trio – but Bachasson (20/1) is a horse floating under the radar a touch this season due to the tracks he has won at.

The seven-year-old has raced twice this campaign and won both starts in great style, at Thurles and Tramore. I really get the feeing there is more to come, but whether he can replicate those efforts on faster ground in more competitive races remains to be seen.

Killultagh Vic (20/1) was a horse I felt would deliver Willie Mullins the Gold Cup that he so badly seeks, but that was before injury intervened back in January 2016. The son of Old Vic returned from a lengthy layoff to win at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve, but is he still up to this level?

Since I got lazy and didn’t finish off this piece pre-Dublin Racing Festival, the above question has been answered. Killultagh Vic looks to have maintained a fair amount of his ability despite the serious nature of his past injuries. I suspect he would’ve just got home in the Irish Gold Cup before his final fence fall. He’ll probably head for the Gold Cup now.

Therefore, Douvan, Min and Yorkhill are more likely winners, but Yorkhill (12/1) is really the horse of interest. If you’ve read the other blogs, it’s clear how high I rate him. His victory in last season’s JLT was sensational and that form now looks top notch. See what I did there?

This free-spirited eight-year-old is not the type of horse to go and win 15 lengths, he’ll always only do bare minimum to get over the line, and that’s a trait I love. While his one length victory over Top Notch at last year’s Festival may look just satisfactory on paper, the reality is he was an easy winner of a race that continues to work out. Bookmakers are taking a small risk offering 12/1 about a horse of his ability.

Plenty obviously feel he won’t run here, but this looks the race for him. Ok, I understand Willie Mullins has the race-favourite, but given the number of quality animals in his care, Mullins will simply have to run two of his big names against each other, should they all get to Cheltenham in good order.

With Un De Sceaux being a ten-year-old, Douvan not looking likely to run in March and Min giving the impression he’s an out-an-out two-miler, Mullins may choose Yorkhill to bolster his chance here and win more of that dastardly Michael O’Leary’s money (I of course joke).

All the above was written before Yorkhill flopped at the Dublin Racing Festival. Having taken a big drift in the market before they jumped off, he ran accordingly. The usual hold he gives his rider never really materialised, and in truth, he just looked flat. This does curb the enthusiasm I had.

It seems crazy we’ve come this far down the preview and not mentioned the highly progressive and classy-looking Waiting Patiently (8/1). Formerly trained by Malcom Jefferson, who sadly passed away a couple of weeks ago, this seven-year-old son of Flemensfirth just looks a quality, young chaser heading firmly in the right direction.

He had some smart novice form last season, beating the likes of Forest Bhian and Politologue, but his latest 8 lengths success in a Kempton novice chase looks a career best in every sense of the word. In form, in style and on the clock, he is getting better. He jumps well; he’s economical, maybe too much so for two-and-a-half miles, but he is at least quick away from his fences.

The problem where Cheltenham lay, is Waiting Patiently needs to improve further. To be fair, I think that is certainly on the cards. The other issue may be ground related; connections don’t seem willing to risk their stable star on unsuitably quick terrain.

He appeared to handle decent conditions comfortably at Kempton last time out, but that came against inferior opposition. There is a good chance of much faster sod come March in unison with him taking on genuine top-class opponents. With that being the case, his price of 8/1 only looks fair.

A horse in a similar mould to Waiting Patiently – and also by Flemensfirth – but more proven is Coney Island (12/1). Trained by the underrated Eddie Harty and owned by JP McManus, this seven-year-old had some top-class novice form last season behind the likes Our Duke. In an interrupted campaign, he would also have the measure of horses like Anibale Fly, Disko and Road To Respect.

Coney Island would miss the 2017 Cheltenham Festival through injury and only made his belated return to action in December at Ascot in winning a conditions race by 9 lengths, hard held. The bare form probably flatters him a touch, but I’d still say it was a career best. When you factor in the distinct possibility of more to come, he’s an exciting horse.

The likes of Ar Mad (40/1), Balko Des Flos (12/1), Frodon (16/1) and Sub Lieutenant (20/1), for various different reasons, are interesting. Ar Mad is a horse I like, because he’s one of few who actually deserves his official rating, 159. We haven’t seen him since the Tingle Creek however, and while he’s overpriced, it’s hard to see him winning a Ryanair, especially given reservations about him running left-handed.

Balko Des Flos was a classy winner of the Galway Plate before seemingly going AWOL in his next two starts at Gowran Park and Clonmel. Maybe Henry de Bromhead gave his inmate a good rest after his summer exploits, and was slowly working him back to full fitness? Proper soft Irish ground is probably also a negative for him now, but back on a firmer surface last time out in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase, the seven-year-old son of Balko bounced back to form and produced a career best.

Under Denis O’Regan, Balko Des Flos jumped beautifully. He was fortunate in that he had plenty of space to be accurate at his fences, but he was deadly, and coming to two out, he had plenty of the field cooked. He was just outstayed late by a better horse on the day in Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Road To Respect, but the drop back in trip accompanied with a good gallop, could see him being the ideal Ryanair horse.

Frodon too, must get a positive mention on the back of his progressive, high-class handicap form which looks extremely solid. His latest success in the Crest Nicholson Handicap Chase at Cheltenham was impressive, the 17 lengths he won by telling that story. That did come on heavy ground however, and the handicapper has surely overreacted with his new rating of 164.

The question is, can he produce a similar performance against top-class horses on much faster ground? I have my doubts.

Finally, last year’s runner-up, Sub Lieutenant looks a big price at 20/1, for all he has been a big disappointment this season. He’s only run three times, but his first two efforts, especially his second run, were bitterly disappointing.

Last time out in the John Durkan, on ground that was surely way too soft to show him at his best, he took a significant step in the right direction. He hasn’t been seen since however, but it is encouraging he’s been left in the Grand National, so hopefully all is well.

At his best, he’s a genuine 160+ horse and as I say, on last season’s running in this, 20/1 is more than fair.

The Final Verdict

At this stage, the 2018 renewal of the Ryanair looks as exciting a race as we could have all season, and on the biggest stage. Now, we are sure to lose a couple of big names for one reason or another, but it’s a race full of strength in depth. There are so many 160+ horses entered, and they are followed by a handful of young guns who have the potential to explode onto the scene.

When you look at the race like that, it’s easy to take on the favourite, Un De Sceaux. Willie Mullins’s ten-year-old has showed this season in his two races that the fire still burns, but he’s won at prices of 4/6 and 4/9. He’ll take on his deepest field yet over this trip and at the prices, factoring in his age, you have to be against him at the stage.

I’d have Top Notch much closer in the betting to Un De Sceaux, based solely on his Grade 2 Christy 1965 Chase victory at Ascot. That form is phenomenal. The problem I have with Nicky Henderson’s inmate is there is every chance he could leave his Cheltenham race behind in running in the Ascot Chase on Saturday February 17th.

Having won the 1965 Chase, he went to Huntingdon three weeks later for the Peterborough Chase, but didn’t look anywhere near as impressive. Why? I think the quick turnaround didn’t suit him, and given he is not a robust horse, something similar could play out at the Festival.

At the prices, given his poor preparation, Fox Norton is easily avoided. At the start of the season, I thought he was the winner of this contest, but after a good opening pair of efforts to the campaign, his form tailed off and his training has been interrupted. He’s without doubt got a strong chance if at his best, but it’s not worth rolling the dice for now at circa 5/1.

Coney Island and Waiting Patiently could clash at Ascot this weekend, and that will tell us plenty. I’m a big fan of both horses, and when I said in the above intro to this section, “young guns who have the potential to explode onto the scene”, this pair top that list.

My gut feeling is this race could come too early in their careers, against proper, battle-hardened 160+ chasers. Neither have Cheltenham Festival experience either, so it makes sense to duck them now. Saturday’s brilliant Ascot Chase will tell us more.

Therefore, potential bets come in the form of Balko Des Flos, Sub Lieutenant and Yorkhill (Yes, him again – I must be as mad as him!). The most solid of the trio is BALKO DES FLOS, who will be coming here on the back of a career best.

Henry De Bromhead’s charge will also come here fresh, inform and with younger legs compared to respective rivals, meaning, at the prices, he looks a value bet against Un De Sceaux, Top Notch and Fox Norton.

At the prices, I’m also going to suggest backing the first selection’s stablemate SUB LIEUTENANT, who at 20/1 with the non-runner no bet concession looks a chance worth taking with the safety net there.

On this season’s efforts, he warrants to be that big, but his second in this race last season is some of the best form on offer here. He’ll only run if he’s right, and if he’s right, 20/1 is too big about a horse who at least took a big positive step last time out.

A quick final mention must go to Douvan and Min. The latter put down a strong Champion Chase marker when winning at the Dublin Racing Festival a couple of weekends ago, but with Douvan today been given an entry for this weekend’s Gowran Park card, should the former Supreme and Arkle winner make Cheltenham, a shuffling of the back could be seen. It’s just something to bear in mind.


2pts each-way Balko Des Flos @10/1 (Betfair Sportsbook, bet365, Paddy Power, Sky Bet – all NRNB)

1pt each-way Sub Lieutenant @20/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power – all NRNB)





























2018 Champion Chase ante-post preview

The highlight race on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival is the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Run over 2m on the Old Course – just like the Champion Hurdle – it’s very much a test of jumping and travelling at speed.

Before the season started, on paper, this was shaping up to be one of the races of a lifetime, and I don’t say that lightly, but plenty of water has flown under the bridge, as we will discuss in more detail below.

Queen Mother Champion Chase ante-post preview

At the start of the season, the 2018 Champion Chase lured race fans into a potential clash with two of the game’s heavyweights, Altior (5/4) and Douvan (6/1). The former, the young pretender with an air of Sprinter Sacre about him; the latter, the unofficial king of the division on the comeback trail from injury.

Sadly, the perfect seasons that we wished for both leading into the Cheltenham Festival haven’t materialised. Altior was found to have a wind issue and was subsequently operated on. Douvan was all set to reappear in the Tingle Creek before being pulled out; his trainer Willie Mullins not fully happy with the gelding’s wellbeing.

Nicky Henderson has always said there is a sound chance of Altior making it back for Cheltenham, and he may run in the Game Spirit at Newbury in February. Willie Mullins on the other hand ruled Douvan out for the season before Christmas, but has since done a U-turn on that call, and there is a small chance of Rich Ricci’s star horse getting to Cheltenham.

With still so much up in the air concerning that pair, focus should be put on those horses fit and well. We’ll start with Paul Nicholls’s Politologue (9/2).

He was a horse I was lukewarm on throughout his novice campaign last season. I knew he was a graded animal, but at no stage did I feel he was top-class. I also had a small doubt about his ability to find off the bridle which is maybe not a surprise given the ease at which he travels.

Even after he had the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase at the Aintree Festival wrapped up before falling at the last, I still questioned him competing at the highest level. This season however, has proved my analysis of him all wrong. Why? Because he was being campaigned over the incorrect trip.

Since the team at Ditcheat have dropped the strong-travelling and quick-jumping grey back to 2m, he hasn’t looked back. His victories in the Haldon Gold Cup, Tingle Creek and Desert Orchid have proved three things.

One: he’s now a top-class horse. Two: he idles badly when he hits the front, and three; he finds off the bridle and battles, as we saw in the Tingle Creek in beating Fox Norton.

With so many horses struggling to make the track, this progressive seven-year-old must be fully respected. He’s a horse tailormade for the Champion Chase test.

He’s a different colour, but in many ways, Min (5/1) reminds me of Politologue. In fact, he’s Politologue, but Politologue on cocaine (or Lucozade for the kids reading). Willie Mullins’s inmate is himself a strong-traveller, but maybe too strong. He’s also a quick jumper, but maybe too bold. He does everything his peer does, but in excess.

Rich Ricci’s horse has only been seen twice this season so far. On the comeback trail from an injury that ruled him out of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, Min made his eagerly awaited return at Gowran Park. He would win a poor race on heavy ground at 1/9.

Much more was expected of him when upped in class to Grade 1 company at Leopardstown over Christmas. However, at odds of 2/7, he would be turned over by the gallant (essentially) 11-year-old Simply Ned. He did finish in front of the ‘winner’, but was correctly demoted having badly hampered his rival.

There is little doubt in my mind that Min was below his best this day, and while it was disappointing he lost, it was impressive how he quickened away from horses like Ordinary World and Ball D’Arc off the home bend before ‘losing’.

He at least travelled well, jumped boldly and battled late. I just get the feeling there is more in the tank and we may see it in his next run which could come at the Dublin Racing Festival.

In a race that has more questions than answers to the very top of the market, it’s a similar scenario as we go down the prices. For example, last year’s runner-up Fox Norton is an 8/1 shot, but he looks more a Ryanair horse and would be of interest in that race. The fact he disappointed in the King George at Kempton in his last run is also off-putting.

Un De Sceaux (12/1) is a horse that still looks to be in decent order at the age of 10. He’s only ran twice this season but he’s won both times; at Cork in the Hilly Way and at Ascot in the Clarence House. He’s another that looks more of a Ryanair type at this stage of his career. He’s the reigning Ryanair champion and I suspect that’s the race he’ll run in come March, unless we get bottomless ground.

Going down the list of remaining entries and I’m just not sure there are any horses with the capabilities of the above-mentioned sextet. Great Field (14/1) is intriguing but he has yet to race this season because of a setback and he may not make the Festival.

Ar Mad (33/1) could run a big race here especially if he got into a nice jumping rhythm, which he didn’t do the Tingle Creek, but he doesn’t look good enough in truth and there are questions to be answered about him running left-handed.

Charbel (25/1) is another classy horse – especially on quick ground – but he’s below the top bracket and jumps too hesitantly for a Champion Chaser. The likes of Politologue would eat him up jumping and constantly take lengths out of him.

Favourable mentions must go to the old boys Gods Own (50/1) and Special Tiara – both Grade 1 winners -who have achieved more than the likes of Ar Mad, Charbel and Great Field. The former is a spring horse who was fifth in this race last year, but in a likely stronger renewal with advancing years, he’s best watched.

Defending Champion Special Tiara (20/1) is now 11, but there is still plenty life left in the old boy, especially when he encounters his favourite fast surface. He’s classy and gallant enough to outrun his price of 20/1, but father time is not on his side and there is a fair chance of this year’s renewal being far stronger. On the other hand, should Altior and Douvan both miss the race, that 20/1 would look huge, especially from an each-way perspective.

Just like the ante-post Champion Hurdle blog, there is a potential fly in the ointment in this race, and it again comes in the shape of Yorkhill (5/1). Willie Mullins’s charge is a supremely talented, but nutty individual.

However, give him a left-handed track over two to two-and-a-half miles, and he’s a match for any horse in training. The chestnut son of Presenting has been to Cheltenham twice in March and won both times.

His Neptune Novices’ Hurdle and JLT Chase successes really got your pulse racing. With the form of last season’s success here working out so well, I find it incredibly hard to leave him out of any Cheltenham race he is entered for.

The Final Verdict

This year’s Champion Chase is a pretty tough race to be confident on in terms of having an ante-post bet. Altior and Douvan look a notch or two above the rest of the field at their best, but are by no means guaranteed to run. That’s true of all those entered, but their aforementioned problems mean it’s less likely they turn up or arrive in top order.

With that being the case – just like the Champion Hurdle – I really don’t see the point in swinging the bat at horses with sexy prices. Special Tiara was the only one of interest, but even that was limited, especially at the age of 11.

Reading between the lines, it really does look like Altior is more likely to make the race then Douvan. Whether he comes to Cheltenham on the back of a prep or straight here is to be decided, but given his wind issues and the likelihood of soft ground at Newbury for the Game Spirit, Nicky Henderson may choose a direct route to the Champion Chase.

If the case, I do feel the brilliant son of High Chaparral could be vulnerable. To win a Champion Chase or any race at Cheltenham, you need to be sharp and on your game; there is no room for error.

Furthermore, and call me crazy for suggesting it given his Cheltenham Festival record on the track, but I really don’t think the Old Course shows Altior off at his very best, and last season’s Arkle form is substandard because of that.

He’s such a long-striding horse who takes a while to get into top gear, the sharp nature of the track doesn’t allow him to fully use himself. If this take longer as he gets older? He could be got at. Tracks with long straights and stiff climbs like Newbury and Sandown are ideal for the eight-year-old, as we’ve seen in the past.

Therefore, at the prices, I’m willing to take Altior on, especially as he’s not certain to line up.

Douvan it seems is an unlikely runner, but the 4/1 non-runner no bet about him looks generous with the safety net there. Should he run, he’ll likely be half those odds, and if he does show, he’s likely to be in good order; no risks will be taken with his wellbeing.

The problem lay in Willie Mullins also having Min and Yorkhill in the race. There could still be a fair bit of juggling done yet, but what is noteworthy is how little faith the Mullins camp have lost in Douvan, despite him currently working his way to full fitness.

Should he not run, Min is likely to sub in for his stablemate, but Yorkhill could also run here. If Min, Un De Sceaux and Yorkhill all get to the Festival in good order, Willie Mullins will be left with no choice but to run two in the one race – in either the Champion Chase or Ryanair – but it’s tough to work out.

Given how exuberant Min is, it makes sense to keep him to two miles. Yorkhill is better equipped and has shown far more stamina compared to Min, so the Ryanair may end up being his destination. Un De Sceaux is almost certain to line up in the race he won last season, but at the age of 10, Willie Mullins may look to the Ryanair for a two-pronged assault, with Yorkhill.

This leaves us with Min and Politologue as potential bets. Like we discussed earlier, apart from their colour, these two are very similar in how they approach the game, and in ability. Both travel well and both jump accurately.

There is a feeling we may have seen the best of Politologue already this season and on his favoured underfoot conditions. Min on the other hand, still reeks of untapped potential who could prove even better on spring ground.

With that being the case, MIN gets the nod. I realise he must bounce back from a disappointing effort at Leopardstown over Christmas, but he disappointed in running to around 160. That’s a good level to disappoint at.

Now, time may prove that’s as good as he is, but getting him on some spring ground around a sharp track like Cheltenham could see him go close. He’s exactly the type of horse to worry Altior, who got a small fright, a very small fright albeit, off Charbel in last season’s Arkle. Min is without doubt a better horse than Charbel, and he could have more to offer.

I’m also going to suggest backing Douvan with the NRNB concession. Should he run, he’ll halve in price and we’ll get our money back on Min. If he doesn’t, nothing will be lost and Min could win it for Rich Ricci.


1.5pts win Min @4/1 (Betfair Sportsbook, bet365, Paddy Power, Sky Bet) – all Non-Runner No Bet

1pt win Douvan @4/1 (bet365), 7-2 (Betfair Sportsbook, Sky Bet) – all Non-Runner No Bet


















2018 Champion Hurdle ante-post preview

Entries have yet to be revealed for the 2018 Unibet Champion Hurdle, January 16 I believe is the date connections must enter, and the public can expect to see those names in the following days. Run over 2m½f on the Old Course on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, the race is a test of strong-travelling and quick-jumping ability around the Prestbury Park undulations.

2018 Champion Hurdle ante-post preview

Despite not getting a feel for what may line up in this year’s Champion Hurdle with preliminary entries not out, it’s safe to say the 2018 running is not shaping up to be a vintage renewal. As the market suggests, last year’s winner Buveur D’Air (4/6) is the horse to beat. Given the prices, there is little point wasting time on covering Nicky Henderson’s inmate for a blog of this type.

Essentially, on what we’ve seen this season – and last – he has the best form, is healthy and is maybe even still progressing. His two victories this campaign in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton came on the bridle; in the latter race he beat a 160+-rated The New One with ease despite conceding race-pace and position to his inform and classy rival.

He’s the horse to beat and he’s the right price.

Second-favourite is a previous Champion Hurdler (2015) in Faugheen (5/1), a horse who in his pomp was one of the greatest hurdlers of his generation, maybe even the greatest. His Irish Champion Hurdle thumping of Arctic Fire (beaten 15 lengths) and Nichols Canyon (beaten 28 lengths) is probably the best hurdling performance I’ve ever seen, but since that day in January 2016, Willie Mullins’s stable star has only run twice, due to injury.

He returned this season after an enforced 665-day break to win the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle by 16 lengths. On paper and visually, it was a sensational comeback, but I don’t think he was anywhere near the 170+ horse he previously was. In fact, I’d say he was a good stone below his best.

Subsequently, the ten-year-old fluffed his lines in the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, pulling up at odds of 2/11. Thankfully, the son of Germany was not injured and recent reports from Closutton are positive(ish). While the case, I find it hard to recommend a horse on the back of being pulled up, especially with a potentially downward spiralling profile.

A bigger threat – albeit one I doubt JP McManus and the Nicky Henderson will lose much sleep over – may come from Faugheen’s stablemate Melon (8/1). A readily held second behind Labaik in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, although he was beaten the son of Medicean deserves great credit for running so well on just his second ever hurdles start.

It was very much a baptism of fire and although he didn’t win, the fact he pulled eight lengths clear of the third was impressive. He was subsequently beaten at the Punchestown Festival, but that race didn’t go his way and in the circumstances he did well to finish second.

His seasonal debut victory at Down Royal in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle left me a bit cold, but the six-year-old took a huge step forward when running 3rd behind classy sorts in the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Despite racing too keen, being hampered at a crucial time and conceding weight to most of the field, to finish on the tails of My Tent Or Yours and The New One was a good run. He’s going the right way.

The above three horses aside, at the moment, I find it very tough to see another horse winning the Champion Hurdle, should the aforementioned trio get to Cheltenham in good order. The wonderfully admirable My Tent Or Yours (16/1) surely can’t win a Champion Hurdle at the age of 11.

To his credit, he could do no more than win the International on his seasonal debut, but the fact he got 6lb from The New One (2nd) and Melon (3rd) is off-putting, especially where the latter is concerned.

Can he run well and maybe hit the frame? Sure, he can, but it looks like he might be battling for one each-way spot should they all turn up and his price is only fair from that point of view.

There are quite a few in that boat, who could run into the frame. In that regard, I respect the likes of Defi Du Seuil (20/1), Mick Jazz (33/1) and Ch’Tibello (50/1) who are younger horses and should have more to offer.

Defi Du Seuil made a very disappointing start to his season in the Ascot Hurdle where a bad mistake at the third, and Philip Hobbs’s team not firing, didn’t help his cause. He hasn’t been seen since, but it’s encouraging he got an entry in the Betfair Hurdle.

While the case, I find it hard to recommend a horse on the back of such a poor run, despite there being reasons for the poor showing. He was a top-class juvenile hurdler last season, but open company is a different ball game and he had plenty racing for a young horse in the last campaign. The jury is out at the moment.

Mick Jazz and Cilaos Emery clashed in the Ryanair Hurdle that Faugheen pulled up in last month with the former being the main beneficiary, beating the latter, who has this week been ruled out of the Champion Hurdle through injury.

Gordon Elliott’s inmate will now go forward to represent this form, but it’s easily to be dubious about it with Faugheen not running his race and, the fact the winner maybe picked up the pieces from a horse who was in front far too early.

In Mick Jazz’s favour, you can see the sharp nature of the Old Course suiting his ability to travel sweetly. Furthermore, as a seven-year-old, it would be no surprise if he was still improving, especially coming from these (Gordon Elliott) quarters.

Dan Skelton’s Ch’Tibello was the other horse of interest from a betting perspective. The seven-year-old has done nothing but improve over the last two seasons and had some smart form behind Yanworth last season before injury ruled him out of the 2017 Champion Hurdle.

He is another who ran in the International behind My Tent Or Yours when beaten three lengths. On his first start since February, he ran a nice race, especially considering he looked a touch fresh and was also hampered in the straight.

It would be no surprise to see him turn the tables with the Nicky Henderson winner come March, but it’s possibly going to be tough to do so with Melon on 6lb worse terms.

Other horses to at least get a mention, but are not betting propositions for various reasons are Apple’s Jade (25/1) who looks set to run in the Mares’ Hurdle and The New One (40/1) who will surely – and finally – be asked to participate in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Alas, there is a potential fly in the ointment and a horse who could instil fear into the odds-on favourite, the enigmatic and wonderfully nutty chestnut, Yorkhill. Given his trainer (Willie Mullins), I’d expect to see the 2016 Neptune and 2017 JLT winner feature among the Champion Hurdle entries.

At the moment, it’s unlikely he’ll run here, but should Douvan, Min and Un De Sceaux all get to Cheltenham fit and well – and it’s a sizable if – there must be a chance Graham Wylie’s star horse is rerouted, especially if Faugheen didn’t happen to make the Festival.

I agree, it’s all ifs and buts, but stranger things have happen and Willie Mullins has always hinted at Yorkhill being a Champion Hurdler in his eyes.

The Final Verdict

As the prices suggest, Buveur D’Air is the horse to beat. Of the likely runners, I just don’t see any horse good enough to stop him in his quest for a second Champion Hurdle.

Faugheen looked well below, albeit his sky high, best in winning at Punchestown on his comeback from injury and has subsequently failed to complete.

Nothing came to light for that pulled up effort and reportedly, little strenuous exercise has been undertaken since. As connections turn the screw and try to get him to the peak of his powers, it would be surprise to see his huge but fragile frame fail him again. On that trail of thought, he’s impossible to recommend at this juncture.

So is the 11-year-old My Tent Or Yours, who has also had his injury problems. I’m sure he can run well again at the Festival, but running well this year could see him beaten 8 lengths back in fifth. He offers poor value from an each-way perspective.

Much more inviting prices are on offer about the unlikely winning trio of Defi Du Seuil (20/1), Mick Jazz (33/1) and Ch’Tibello (50/1), but should all of those ahead of them in the market turn up, they could all be fighting for one each-way place. In terms of each-way betting, that’s a hard sell in anyone’s book.

Factor in Defi Du Seuil’s poor recent form and Mick Jazz and Ch’Tibello needing to improve significantly, despite sexy prices, they can be left.

To my eye, the 2018 Champion Hurdle is not a race to try and get clever with. I want to be with those to the head of the market despite value potentially looking skimpy. I feel there will be better value bets to come, there are 27 other races after all!

At this time, MELON looks the best betting opportunity and he should be backed in the without Buveur D’Air market. I just can’t see him beating the favourite, but I’m confident in his ability to finish second.

There are so few horses in this year’s Champion Hurdle genuinely on an upward curve, especially with Melon’s type of ability. Like I said above, his seasonal debut underwhelmed me, but his International third was a huge step in the right direction.

He was taking on much more seasoned and at the time, much more classy horses in My Tent Or Yours and The New One. He’ll met the winner on 6lb better terms come March with the distinct promise of more to come. Furthermore, a stronger run race on quicker ground back on the Old Course are three more positives.

In a recent interview with The Irish Field, I was taken by Ruby Walsh’s suggestion that Melon’s last race had made a man of him and he’d come forward for the race. There is every chance of more to come.

Ruby’s full comment read, “He’s come forward for the run in Cheltenham. That was his first run with the big boys. He’s definitely a better horse for it. The Champion Hurdle will be a stronger-run race, and on a different track – it’s on the Old Course – so that will definitely suit him. You’d imagine he’ll go to Leopardstown. He hasn’t a lot of experience and will be improving every day.

With some bookmakers offering Non-Runner No Bet concessions, I’m also going to suggest a saver on Melon’s stablemate Yorkhill. If he was switched to this race, and it’s unlikely at the moment but we have non-runner safety net, he’d likely be second favourite.


2.5pts each-way Melon ‘betting without Buveur D’Air’ @4/1 (Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power) – 1/5 odds 1,2,3 – Non-Runner No Bet

1pt win Yorkhill ‘betting without Buveur D’Air’ @11/4 (bet365), 5/2 (Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power) – Non-Runner No Bet