Ante-Post Angle: Championship Chases

Entries for the championship chases at Cheltenham have been made, and this welcome festival milestone provides a perfect excuse for an in-depth look at the current ante-post markets, and a quest for that most elusive beast: good value. Happily, in two of the three races it looks like there is a real outlier in the market, so maybe there is some value after all…read on to find out where.

Gold Cup

To this observer there is no doubting which horse represents the best value in the current Gold Cup market: step forward BRISTOL DE MAI. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ stable star is the joint-highest rated horse out of the 43 entries made, and a two-time Grade One winner. He is also still only eight years old, right in the middle of the perfect age range for winners given that 26 of the last 29 Gold Cups have been won by seven, eight or nine year olds. He should therefore be an obvious leading contender.

But the narrative around this horse is that he ‘only performs at Haydock’ and ‘loves the mud’, and as a result he is available at long prices for March’s showpiece. It is certainly true to say that Bristol de Mai loves Haydock: both of his Grade One wins have come there, and he has recorded four of his five highest career RPRs at the Lancashire track. But his apparent hatred of Cheltenham in comparison has been exaggerated. He has only run at Prestbury Park three times: in January 2018 he was too bad to be true in the Cotswold Chase and had wind surgery two days later; in 2017 he was only 7th in the Gold Cup, but 2016-17 was a poor season all-round for a horse still adjusting to being in open company; while at the 2016 festival he ran an excellent race in the JLT Novices Chase, finishing second and posting his highest RPR of the season in the process. And as far as being soft-ground dependent goes, that is simply nonsense. His win in this season’s Grade One Betfair Chase was achieved on good ground, and his 2016 JLT 2nd was too. In fact, as far as ante-post betting is concerned, his ability to act on any ground is a big positive.

The remaining question mark is his dreadful – and short-lived – run in the King George, when he never settled and fell at the ninth fence. The horse was badly bumped by Thistlecrack at the first fence, which seemed to spook him, and his trainer used this excuse afterwards. This is a slight concern given the hustle and bustle of an open Gold Cup, but it’s not something that’s happened to the horse before, and perhaps it would be wisest simply to draw a line through the King George entirely. It’s certainly easier than trying to explain a race where every single horse surprised onlookers in one way or another.

Given all of that, quotes of 33/1 NRNB with Paddy Power seem extraordinary. The price presumes as fact that Bristol de Mai won’t act at Cheltenham, and that’s been shown to not necessarily be the case. So given it’s no runner no bet and there’s no risk attached, there’s only one question still to answer: could this horse win a Gold Cup if he does show his ability in March around the undulations of Cheltenham’s new course?

My answer, if he does act on the course, is a resounding yes. There are issues with all the other leading players in the market:

Presenting Percy – a worthy favourite, but yet to be seen on a racecourse this season. His previous build-up for Cheltenham wins took in six and five races in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Whilst true that his trainer favours unorthodox preparation for the festival, this unorthodoxy has always previously involved the horse actually running!

Native River – respected of course as champion, but that brutal race last year may mean he is past his absolute peak; also, only the very best horses win two Gold Cups, and he certainly isn’t an all-time great in terms of ability.

Kemboy – not yet shown that he can stay the extra two furlongs up the hill and only fourth in last season’s JLT.

Clan des Obeaux – well-beaten by Bristol de Mai at Haydock; form of his King George win highly questionable.

Thistlecrack – 11 years old and surely not a fluent enough jumper to win the big prize.

Road To Respect – Respected for his fourth in unsuitable conditions last year, but only a distant third in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, and that’s a concern.

Al Boum Photo – only completed four of his seven chase starts, and fell at Cheltenham last year. There’s also no guarantee he will stay.

Bellshill – every chance if fully fit by March, but he has work to do on that front.

Might Bite – potentially ‘gone at the game’ after 2018’s epic battle with Native River.

Sizing John – has yet to show he has retained his ability and is fully-fit.

Elegant Escape – a wonderful horse, but in my mind too slow to win a good ground Gold Cup run at a strong pace.

Many of these horses could win the Gold Cup – and one of them is very likely to – but the question is the value of a 33/1 bet, not 3/1. With so many doubts about his rivals, Bristol de Mai looks a very generous price.


Ryanair Chase

The main factor when considering ante-post betting in the Ryanair Chase is which horses will actually end up taking part rather than pursuing alternative targets. Of those almost certain to end up in the Ryanair if fit and well – taking trainer comments into account as well as the most logical targets – Min, Waiting Patiently and Monalee would all have major claims, while Paul Nicholls’ duo of Politilogue and Frodon would have to be respected.

All of these horses have every chance in March, but are accordingly short in the market and represent little, if any, value two months before the action starts. Yet further down the list of highly-likely runners, there is one which may have been underestimated, Venetia Williams’ ASO. On the face of it, this horse isn’t up to winning an open Grade One, having competed largely in big-field handicaps since 2016, but a closer look leads to a different conclusion.

His win over (almost precisely) Ryanair course and distance on New Year’s Day was more comfortable than the two-length margin of victory suggests; his jockey Charlie Deutsch made absolutely sure of the win, rather than testing the horse to his limits. This victory was achieved from an already lofty official mark of 158, meaning Aso is now rated 163 by the handicapper. Any further improvement would put him right in the mix for a Ryanair champion in a year without a clearly exceptional favourite; last year’s winner Balko des Flos was rated 166, and 2015 winner Uxizandre a lowly 161 before the race.

And despite being nine-years-old, there is a strong case that Aso is still progressive. He was off the track injured for 397 days between October 2017 and his comeback in November 2018. In his pre-injury career he competed in eight open chases and posted an average RPR of just 151; post comeback he has been awarded RPRs of 163 at Newbury and then a career-best 166 at Cheltenham. Evidence suggests he has not yet reached the ceiling of his natural ability.

Aso’s record at Cheltenham also bears closer scrutiny. He’s raced at the Festival three times, and could only finish 11th in the 2015 County Hurdle and 5th in the 2016 Arkle on his first two attempts, but those were at odds of 33/1 and 66/1 respectively, so he handled the track with no issues. But it is Aso’s third visit to the festival that is of such interest, because in 2017 – as a weaker horse, remember – he managed to finish third in the Ryanair Chase at odds of 40/1. In fact, his overall course and distance record is excellent: 2nd/8th (lost a shoe)/3rd (Ryanair)/1st.

Given the importance of Cheltenham and festival form – 53% of all the festival races in the last 12 years have been won by horses with proven Cheltenham form (from a much smaller pool of entries) – Aso has every chance of posting another impressive showing. The only remaining potential negative is his target, but Venetia Williams confirmed after his New Year’s Day victory that the Ryanair would now be his main aim. Unfortunately the 33/1 I managed to get (see Twitter!) went before I could post this, but at a best price of boosted 25/1, a small each-way bet is still advised against a field without a definite superstar.

Champion Chase

Altior dominates the market, and rightfully so. He has won against all his rivals in all conditions, is seemingly tactically invincible with his high cruising speed and deadly finishing kick, and has proven he’s not ground-dependent by winning on all types of ground. For an each-way bet to be value, the ‘win’ part must represent as fair a price as the ‘place’ part, and given just how likely Altior is to win this race – quotes of 1/2 are perfectly reasonable – then there is no ante-post value to be found. Instead, simply watch this magnificent horse add to his victory tally!


Advised Bets (10/01/19)

Bristol de Mai – Gold Cup – 1pt e/w 33/1 NRNB (Paddy Power) 

Aso – Ryanair Chase – 0.5pts e/w 25/1 (Ladbrokes & Hills – both offering ‘boost’)

Ante-Post Angles – Sam Spinner & Bedrock (30/11/18)

There are a couple of horses running over the next couple of days whose performance looks likely to shorten their odds in ante-post Cheltenham betting – if, that is, they perform well – and as such, prices ought to be taken now.

The first is SAM SPINNER, who is currently 3/1 for the Newbury Long Distance Hurdle. On top form, there’s little question that he’s the best horse in this race: he’s rated 4lbs higher than the consistent Wholestone and 5lbs higher than the past-his-best Uknowhatimeanharry. However, this is his first run of the season against match fit rivals, and that’s reflected in his price. Yet there’s strong evidence he runs better fresh, and still only a 6-year-old he could very well still be progressive. In my book that makes him highly likely to run very well (if not win) this Newbury race.

As such, quotes of 20/1 for the Stayers Hurdle in March look very generous. At this stage, apart from his rivals in this race – and maybe the conversion of Faugheen into a genuine staying hurdler – and two-time champion Penhill, there aren’t many other serious contenders. A ridiculous ride from his inexperienced jockey means we can strike a line through Sam Spinner’s non-performance in the race last year, and if he turns up fit he would have every chance. The time to stake the bet looks like now, as if he runs well today (as I think he will) that price won’t last for long.

The second horse is BEDROCK, who runs in the ‘Mini Champion Hurdle’ at Newcastle tomorrow against Samcro, Buveur d’Air and Summerville Boy. On the face of it, this looks an extremely tall order, and he’s 16/1 in the Fighting Fifth market as a result. Those odds don’t appeal at all. However, he’s currently a massive 40/1 with Bet365 for the Champion Hurdle, and given that Bet365 offer a cash-out facility to most punters, that price is most certainly of interest. The main reason is that Bedrock beat Samcro fair and square at Down Royal. Everybody was queuing up to make excuses for the Ballymore winner – everybody except his trainer Gordon Elliott, who admitted that the horse was fit and primed, and that he was massively disappointed. There are also plenty of shrewd judges out there whose reading of that Down Royal race, using Sharjah as a guide, was that Samcro ran his race, but giving 5lbs to Bedrock was the difference. In that context, the 40/1 looks massive.

Of course, he will have to go close in the Fighting Fifth to show he has a genuine chance in the Champion Hurdle. (And when I say he will ‘have to’, I mean that, because there’s the added complication of his ownership. He’s been sold to go to race in the USA, but apparently trainer Iain Jardine has persuaded new connections to ‘have a go’ at the Champion Hurdle first, hence his entry at Newcastle. That’s why the cash out option is potentially vital to this wager.) He is race-fit, unlike Buveur d’Air or Summerville Boy, and he didn’t spend yesterday in a boat crossing the very choppy seas, unlike Samcro. As such I’d be disappointed if he wasn’t in the frame in the final furlong. Given that, a very small each way wager at 40/1 looks like an option worth taking.

Recommended Bets:

Sam Spinner – Stayers Hurdle – 1pt e/w @ 20/1

Bedrock – Champion Hurdle – 0.5pts e/w @ 40/1 (Bet365 if you can – cash out available)

The Path To Glory – Part Two

The Story So Far

Since the first update in this semi-regular series, there has been an extraordinary amount of notable National Hunt action. Trainers who had previously been reluctant to run their better horses on good ground either ran out of patience, or managed to find the odd bit of good-to-soft ground somewhere in the country, and as such there’s been an almost overwhelming number of top prospects to keep track of. But don’t worry if you’ve not managed to catch the midweek action at Carlisle or Chepstow, or you’ve been too busy to watch back the big clashes at Cheltenham, Haydock and Down Royal: The Path To Glory is back. This is a bumper addition – even including a discussion on bumper horses – and there are even a couple of suggested ante-post wagers if you’re itching to add to your Cheltenham portfolio.


The elephant in the ante-post room is, of course, the biggest hype horse of the season, Samcro, and his disappointing season debut. Sent off 4/9 on favourite, he failed to beat a supposedly inferior field, finishing a length and a half behind the previously unheralded Bedrock, and immediately the internet screamed in its wisdom: “this horse can’t win a Champion Hurdle!” But closer inspection of the race means Samcro can’t be discounted as a 2-mile hurdler just yet. Firstly, he was giving 5lbs to the 149-rated Bedrock, and 8lbs to the 155 rated Sharjah, who he swatted aside by a relatively comfortable 5 lengths; secondly, the race was won in an impressive time – and so it may simply be that Bedrock had been seriously underrated. The handicapper largely agrees, putting Samcro on 160 for this ‘disappointing’ performance, not enough to win a Champion Hurdle, but only 9lbs behind 169-rated double-champion Buveur d’Air. Bearing in mind that Gordon Elliott’s string was generally lacklustre around this time, the great young hope can’t be written off. But to this observer, he doesn’t seem to have that turn of foot generally required to win a Champion Hurdle, and at this stage he’s unbackable.

Having said that, there hasn’t yet been a truly credible alternative 2-mile champion sighted on a UK or Irish race-track. Willie Mullins ran Faugheen in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, seemingly because Melon wasn’t firing, and to no surprise to anybody – apart from the betting public who made the ex-champ odds-on favourite, it seems – he didn’t have the pace to win. The great 10-year-old could yet be a force in the Stayers’ Hurdle, and should stay over 3 miles for the rest of the season. Supasundae and Buveur d’Air are yet to run this term, but the latter could line up in a mouth-watering clash with Samcro in the Fighting Fifth; Laurina seems to be waiting for genuinely soft ground, which is a concern with Cheltenham in mind.

Verdana Blue was a magnificent winner of the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton, seemingly putting herself in the Champion Hurdle shake-up, but then failed to win the Greatwood off a mark of 151, taking her out of consideration again – unless she didn’t run at her best due to having just 8 days between assignments. In that intriguing Elite Hurdle, she beat three of last season’s most promising juveniles: Redicean could only finish fourth and can surely now be discounted from Grade Ones this term; We Have A Dream jumped very slickly and came third; and If The Cap Fits kept on well for second, which looked a good effort given he had been off the track for 10 months. This impression was confirmed in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot, when If The Cap Fits came from several lengths down turning into the home straight to land the prestigious Grade 2 for Harry Fry, while We Have A Dream could only finish a disappointing fourth. However, this race didn’t do much for the winner’s Champion Hurdle prospects: he needed every yard of the 2m3f, and in the end only narrowly beat the consistent yardstick Old Guard when receiving 6lbs, which rates him at about 148, so he will need to improve significantly to be a Grade One player. Harry Fry also poured cold water on the Champion Hurdle as a target after the race, saying this sort of trip suits the horse better. That said, it’s looking increasingly likely that last season’s juveniles weren’t a good crop.

Another mare making headlines was Apples Jade, seemingly back to something like her best with an 11-length demolition job over 2m4f in the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle. Gordon Elliott maintained throughout the Summer that her Cheltenham and Punchestown disappointments weren’t her true running, and this might prove he was right. The question, as always, with this super-talented horse is: if she is on form, does she go for the Champion Hurdle (surely not?), the Mares (highly likely) or the Stayers (possible)? The answer, as always, is Do Not Bet Ante-Post On Apples Jade.

For the staying hurdlers more cut in the ground would be welcome, but at Aintree Wholestone did a professional job in winning a 2m4f race against the likes of Unowhatimeanharry and Vision des Flos by 3 lengths. That put Nigel Twiston-Davies in bullish mood, commenting that “he’s shown a bit of pace there, which is nice to see. We’ll make our way to Cheltenham in March…via all the top staying hurdle races in Britain”. He’s consistent (3rd at Cheltenham and 2nd at Aintree in the 2018 festivals) but remains unlikely to win the big races. One worth noting for 3-mile hurdles is First Assignment, who hacked up in a Listed Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham when a very well-backed favourite. He could subsequently only place third in a Grade 3 at Haydock, but remains of interest; after all, any horse with a 2/2 record at Prestbury Park should always be on the ante-post radar.

Novice Hurdlers

Among the novices, some of those mentioned in Part One haven’t managed to enhance their claims. Pym was well-beaten into 2nd in the Ballymore trial at Cheltenham; Double Treasure never threatened and pulled up. The winner was Fergal O’Brien’s Coolanly, who stayed on nicely up the hill after a patient ride by Paddy Brennan, and the 6-year-old is worth putting on Ballymore shortlists. Meanwhile Good Boy Bobby got stuck in the mud at Ffos Las, and needs to be judged again on better ground.

Some of the most eagerly-anticipated hurdling debuts this season were underwhelming. In Britain Acey Milan also failed to handle the deep ground at Ffos Las and ended up a beaten 4/9 favourite. In Ireland Commander Of Fleet did notch an opening victory, but wandered left at the final furlong and idled in front; still, he remains a major prospect for the Ballymore for Gordon Elliott. Also at Punchestown, Champion Bumper winner Relegate has a defeat in the form book, but would surely have got in front had she not suffered interference from Cuneo; having said that, her jumping could not have been more deliberate, and she can’t be seriously considered for Grade Ones over hurdles until her technique improves.

But happily, other young horses have really impressed, with two in particular taking the breath away with their acceleration in the closing stages. Epatante may not have beaten much in her Kempton romp, but in quickening after the last with a mere shake of the reins by Barry Gerahty, the McManus mare looked uncannily like Buveur d’Air. As a result she has taken a strong hold of the Mares’ Novice Hurdle market, but with Willie Mullins having this race sewn up since its inception, it would be wise to wait to see what the wizard trainer has up his sleeve.

An objectively stronger performance – and almost equally as visually striking – was posted by ELDORADO ALLEN at Sandown. He accelerated so quickly between the second and last, and jumped the last so fluently, that in just that distance he went several lengths clear. Furthermore, he handed a serious beating to a very good-looking big horse, Severano, 5th in the Aintree bumper in Aintree, who himself could be worth following. Joe Tizzard says the winner was “eye-catching and…does everything right at home” and confirmed a tilt at the Tolworth in the New Year, the race won by last season’s Supreme winner Summerville Boy. Everything is in place for an ante-post bet before his next run, as he’ll only shorten in the Supreme market.

One other form line is already promising. Elixir de Nutz bounded up the Cheltenham hill nicely in the prestigious Supreme Trial, beating the well-fancied Seddon, but perhaps the horse to take out of this race wasn’t even running in it! Thomas Darby, trained by future superstar Olly Murphy, had beaten Elixir by more than 3 lengths in October in what now looks like an exceptional maiden, also at Prestbury Park. He then relished an all-out battle to the line at Ascot with equally promising Didtheyleaveuoutto, who is also worth tracking, especially on his strong Bumper form last term. That Ascot race was run at a very steady gallop, and Nick Gifford will want to see his charge quicken off a stronger pace before dreaming of training a Supreme winner. Thomas Darby might be better suited to slightly further.

Novice Chasers

The only place to begin in the novice chasing division is with Lalor, a magnificent winner of the Arkle trial at Cheltenham for an understandably emotional Kayley Woollacott. Lalor travelled easily, jumped safely and efficiently, had notable acceleration when asked, and relished the famous hill. In short, he looked every inch an Arkle winner, and if it was only natural for the trainer to be carried away, the normally sanguine champion jockey Richard Johnson was also effusive in his praise for the performance: “He’s got scope but he’s also quite nimble and clever as well, and the way he finished off the race was really pleasing. You have to think of him as an Arkle horse.” The strength of the form has been questioned, and it is fair to say he would probably have to improve again to win an Arkle, but based on what’s actually happened on the track this season, the form is rock-solid. Dynamite Dollars ran his race in second place, and he had the clear beating of Claimantakinforgan – who looks like he needs further – on form lines through the consistent Highway One O One and Dolos. Therefore at this point Lalor is a fair favourite for the Arkle, but at current prices is too short to back until we have seen all the other contenders.

Lalor was certainly more impressive than the previous ante-post Arkle favourite Kalashnikov, who was merely decent on his chase debut against a weak field at Warwick. He showed off his powerful engine to stretch out an easy 11-length win – and that engine really mustn’t be underestimated – but his jumping was either too safe, or on a couple of occasions a little sketchy. He will need more practice over the fences to become worthy of his short price in the Arkle market. Among other British potential Arkle candidates, Maria’s Benefit got some black type at Bangor with another classy jumping display, but she was all out to beat Jester Jet, an opponent who is better over longer distances. Even so, she’s 2/2 over fences and should be seen in a graded race soon.

The best 2-mile form on the track in Ireland so far this season has been from Voix du Reve at Punchestown, who won a Grade Two handily, but the form could be misleading: the winner received 3lbs from Cadmium, given a very easy introduction to chasing by Ruby Walsh, and more solid evidence is required before he is an ante-post prospect. Meanwhile Paloma Blue was distinctly underwhelming in his beginners’ chase at Navan.

Over middle-distances, no horse has shone as brightly as Lalor, but several have made promising starts. Vinndication missed the business-end of last season, but Kim Bailey has made no secret of seeing this strapping 5-year-old as a chaser, and he looked as tough as teak in getting up to beat a determined Uncle Alastair at Carlisle. The runner-up is worth noting; the front two pulled well clear. Bags Groove was another to make a good start by winning a Grade 2 at Wincanton, when he showed a natural ability to jump at pace and gained ground over the majority of his fences, including an almighty leap 2 out, although did clout the last when the race was won and jumped slightly right-handed. A horse that’s now proven to relish Cheltenham is Count Meribel, guided to a narrow win at HQ courtesy of a stunning ‘sit’ by Mark Grant 2 out, but this may have been a weaker renewal than usual. Mr Whipped, in third, needs 3 miles on this evidence. It should also be noted that Wenyerreadyfreddie thoroughly franked the unbeaten Lil Rockefeller’s form with a huge-margin win against some proven performers and then a gutsy victory at Ascot against some decent sorts (including clear Pertemps Hurdle plot job Moon Racer). Neil King confirmed that his likeable and consistent 7-year-old – with 36 runs, 11 wins and £440k of prize money already under his belt – will now be aimed at graded races.

So far, one novice staying chaser has stood out above all the others. La Bague Au Roi won a hot-looking Beginners’ Chase over 2m7f at Newbury, beating Lostintranslation by 2 lengths, a decent but unremarkable result in itself as she was receiving 7lbs from Colin Tizzard’s strapping 6-year-old – but it the way she won that was so impressive. She attacked the fences with real tenacity, looked to be enjoying tackling the more challenging obstacles, and showed a super attitude to head Lostintranslation between second last and last. Trainer Warren Greatrex was delighted, saying that “she’s high class and deserves to be better than she’s shown – I might never train a mare as good as her”. But as far as ante-post betting is concerned, he added a word of caution: “I’m not sure Cheltenham’s her track. She hasn’t ever really performed there, but that could just be me thinking that”. It isn’t. Taking facile Class 4s and bumpers out, she is 0/3 at undulating tracks (average RPR 136) and 4/5 on flat, galloping tracks (average RPR 146 with a peak of 153). She needs to prove she likes Cheltenham before she is an RSA or 4-miler betting prospect, no matter how brilliant her chasing debut.

Other much-anticipated stayers have been disappointing. The Worlds End did look good on his chasing debut at Chepstow, beating 143-rated hurdler Now McGinty by 14 lengths, but followed that up with a poor run at Cheltenham when well beaten in third. Albert Bartlett winner Kilbricken Storm did manage to get up to win his race at Ffos Las, showing off both his big engine and his love for soft ground, but his jumping was horrendous. A follow-up performance may see Colin Tizzard re-route him to the Stayers’ Hurdle, in which he would have to be respected.


The Betfair Chase was run on good ground at Haydock – an almost unprecedented occurrence that sums up just how dry it’s been – and this tempted all the principal staying chasers in the UK to run. As such Haydock’s biggest fan, Bristol de Mai, was sent off as long as 15/2, but he yet again showed his love for the Lancashire track by putting his more vaunted rivals to the sword with a relentless display of galloping. He has now recorded RPRs at Haydock of 170, 182 and 177; no doubt Nigel Twiston-Davies will be petitioning the BHA to hold more prestigious fixtures there. A bigger shock than even the good ground was the poor run of Might Bite, who was off the bridle four out and didn’t travel with his usual zest. This run was too bad to be true, and it has to be hoped that he has a minor issue rather than having been bottomed out by last year’s epic Gold Cup. Nicky Henderson was blaming the “stiff fences”, which is neither one of those options nor the other. Native River certainly isn’t finished as a racehorse, but this was more evidence that he is a straightforward (if brilliant) out-and-out stayer, and can get outpaced on flatter tracks and on good ground. Thistlecrack’s run was encouraging in some ways for Colin Tizzard, because the 10-year-old stayed on gamely and still retains a lot of ability, but his jumping was baffling throughout. He may not now be quick enough to win a Stayers Hurdle, but if I were his trainer, I’d be tempted to find out.

Another heartening comeback run from an old favourite took place in a Cheltenham handicap, where Coneygree stayed on into third despite lumping top weight round for 3m3f. All racing fans will be hoping he has one last day in the sun – or in the mud, anyway – and can stay sound. Current wild prices on him in the King George are worth a thought.

There’s no shortage of up-and-coming staying chasers either, in a division that is starting to have extraordinary depth. Elegant Escape displayed a magnificent attitude in a terrific battle at Sandown with the progressive Thomas Patrick, and both are deservedly short prices in the Ladbrokes Trophy betting as a result. If one of them wins that big prize at Newbury, they will bring themselves into Gold Cup reckoning in the way that Denman and Imperial Commander did in the past. Paul Nicholls has come to the conclusion that the admirably tough Politilogue will develop into a stayer, despite him winning the Tingle Creek over 2 miles last season. He started in the best possible fashion with a gutsy victory over 2m5f at Ascot, seeing off Charbel despite giving the Kim Bailey horse 6lbs. This race was run at a good gallop and looks like rock-solid form; both could be players in the Ryanair Chase in March.

Irish Gold Cup hopes may end up pinned on Road To Respect, who thrashed some decent opposition on good ground at Down Royal to take the Grade One prize. His fourth in last year’s Gold Cup is a good piece of form given that he hated the deep ground, and if he is still progressing then he will have to be respected in March. Also at Down Royal, Monalee fluffed his lines over 2.5 miles, well beaten by Snow Falcon and Shattered Love.

As far as Queen Mother Champion Chase prospects are concerned, we are yet to see the mighty Altior on a racecourse, but the fight to finish second to him in March is warming up. The biggest ripples in the ante-post betting pond were made by Saint Calvados’ thorough defeat of Footpad at Naas. The 2-mile chasing division had been billed as a battle between the reigning champion and the Arkle winner, but clearly this is no longer the case, as a tired Footpad was already well beaten before falling close to home. Harry Whittington was rewarded for doing what other British trainers are so reluctant to do: get your horse fully fit and challenge the Mullins/Elliott duopoly in most of the big races in Ireland. Saint Calvados did his job admirably, but in truth this was a desperate run from Footpad, and probably too bad to be true; his trainer pointed to an overreach early on as the main reason for his run.

The best run in the UK over 2 miles came in the Grade Two Shloer Chase at Cheltenham, where Sceau Royal – a somewhat forgotten horse after he missed the Spring festivals last season with injury – provided another example of his pinpoint jumping, gaining as much as a length on his rivals at every fence. While he may not have the engine of some of his peers, that skill will stand him in good stead, and it will be fascinating to see him try to put Altior in trouble down the railway fences at Sandown in the Tingle Creek. As it stands, however, the champion is still on track to retain his crown, although one to keep an eye on is Ballyoisin, a wide-margin winner at Navan and a horse who could still be anything.


The best juvenile performance so far – among slim pickings, it must be said, until we see the main Irish contenders – came from Paul Nicholls’ Quel Destin in the prestigious Triumph Trial at Cheltenham. He beat a field full of highly-hyped young horses, including Alan King’s Cracker Factory, Nicky Henderson’s Never Adapt, and Jane Williams’ Montestrel, who had beaten Quel Destin previously at Chepstow. Paul Nicholls says the winner is “tough and stays well” but that he might need softer ground to see him at his best. Montestrel’s run was too bad to be true, so don’t discount this one from Triumph considerations just yet.

The value betting angle on the Triumph is to use the early-season form on the track in the UK to try to predict which as-yet-unseen horses brought over from France could be even better. This is hardly a fool-proof strategy, but this year there’s a very obvious contender, Adjali, who beat Quel Destin twice in the Spring in France for Guillaume Macaire, and is being trained by Nicky Henderson, an absolute master at readying juveniles. The only horse to confirm superiority with Adjali in France was Beaumec De Houelle, and he has gone on to win a Grade 2 and a Grade 1 this term. With big odds available, ADJALI is worth an extremely speculative each way punt in the Triumph.


Believe it or not, there has already been a box-office bumper this season. This took place at Punchestown and featured a fight between the two most talked-up Irish prospects: in Gordon Elliott’s corner was Malone Road; for Willie Mullins Mt Leinster went into battle. The bookies couldn’t separate these two before the bell, but there was no doubting the superior horse after the race, as Malone Road delivered a knock-out blow to his rival. His turn-of-foot over the last furlong under Jamie Codd was almost freakish, and earned him the first “you won’t see him again until Cheltenham” from a trainer of the season. He may prove hard to beat in March.

And Finally…

…Grand National winning hero Tiger Roll may not have been victorious in the Cross Country race at his beloved Cheltenham, but he stayed on well up the hill carrying top-weight against some primed rivals and delighted his trainer Gordon Elliott, who confirmed his main season target as the Cross Country at the Cheltenham Festival. On this evidence he retains all his zest and shouldn’t be taken on in the market.

Advised Bets

Eldorado Allen – Supreme Novices Hurdle – 33/1 1pt e/w
Adjali – Triumph Hurdle – 33/1 0.5 pts e/w

The Path To Glory: Part One

The Path To Glory?

Now that the jumps racing season is in full swing, even the most dedicated follower can struggle to keep up with the volume of quality horses on show. This feature will aim to keep readers fully informed of all the most vital developments, focussing on results on the racecourse rather than speculation off it. Initially, it will identify horses to track across the various national hunt disciplines, but as the season hots up and the form lines starts to intertwine, it should offer some value ante-post options for the big races and the Cheltenham Festival itself. All aboard The Path To Glory!

Novice Hurdlers

The first young horse to really make an impression this season was Pym, a Nicky Henderson trained 5-year-old who won in nice style over 2 miles at Chepstow. A man of habit, Henderson has tended to use this race for his serious Supreme Novice Hurdle contenders over the years, and sent the mighty Altior here in 2015. However Altior bolted up by 34-lengths, and therefore we must also note the runner-up Deyrann de Carjac, who got within just two lengths of Pym despite carrying six pounds more. Alan King said that Carjac is “a lovely horse…and I would hope and think he is one of my better novices”. Henderson will also be hoping that proves to be the case; if so, Pym could be a real Supreme contender.

Two to stand out at Chepstow over a slightly longer trip were Secret Investor and Double Treasure in the 2.5 mile Persian War, which boasts Silviniaco Conti and Blaklion as recent victors. This looked like a good renewal, with the front two well clear of the rest and given punchy RPRs of 146 and 143 respectively. Secret Investor looked to have plenty in hand at the finish, and trained by Paul Nicholls he is certainly one for the tracker even at this early stage. Third-placed Gosheven shaped well but was outpaced, and as an unexposed Hobbs horse, he could be of serious interest in a handicap over slightly further.

Nigel Twiston-Davies sent two of his brightest novice hurdle prospects on the long journey to Carlisle in the quest for some cut in the ground, and both returned home victorious. Good Boy Bobby and Al Dancer showed an equally gutsy attitude at the finish, seeing off determined challenges from Weather Front and the well-fancied Windsor Avenue to score over 2m1f. Of the two, it was Good Boy Bobby who caught the eye as a better hurdler, posting a quicker time than his stablemate with his more efficient hurdling technique.

Two novice hurdlers impressed at Cheltenham’s showcase meeting. Dinons could have won doing handstands, cruising to a large-margin win over 3 miles for Gordon Elliott. The Irish trainer struggled to hide his excitement afterwards, saying he “wouldn’t be surprised to see him back over here again for a graded 3-mile race. He gallops and stays and if his jumping gets a bit slicker he could be a very nice horse.” He also fits exactly the profile of the sort of horse that generally wins the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham: battle-hardened, experienced and reliable. With a striking visual impression, a good profile and a nod at the target from his trainer – the two-time running champion trainer at the festival, let’s not forget – everything is in place for an ante-post bet. So DINONS is this column’s first selection…we’re up and running!

And over 2m5f Canardier won in visually striking style, with the front two well clear, and obviously relished the undulating track and stiff finish. The owners would “definitely love to be back in March,” confirmed trainer Dermot McLoughlin, so note him down for the Ballymore.

Among the mares, Posh Trish made a good start to the season, beating her competition at Chepstow easily enough. She wasn’t embarrassed (finished 10/20) in the Mares’ Bumper at Aintree in April and at only 5-years-old could yet develop into a live contender for the Mares Novices at Cheltenham given her apparent progression from April to October.

Novice Chasers

Is there anything more exciting than seeing a top hurdling prospect take to fences like a natural? Maria’s Benefit certainly falls into that category, having smashed some stiff-seeming competition at Newton Abbott with a flawless round of jumping. Winner of five hurdle races last season, she arrived at Cheltenham well-fancied for the Mares’ Novices Hurdle, but in trying too hard to force the pace against Laurina she faded into fourth. Yet in her seasonal reappearance her over-exuberance looks to have been tamed – she even settled happily in 2nd for a couple of furlongs when Flying Tiger lit up – and she finished the job like a seasoned professional with a decisive turn of foot two furlongs out. Runner-up Mont des Avaloirs should not be discounted, however, as he didn’t look to enjoy the soft-to-heavy ground. And on this form line, Laurina could indeed be a Champion Hurdle contender.

Another mare to have taken a shine to chasing is Colin Tizzard’s Drinks Interval, now rated 147 after a 10-length open company win, and on that basis one to consider for graded races given her mares’ allowance. Her trainer – not normally one to get carried away – agreed after her victory that she “could go to the big tracks now. Her jumping is improving. She has got good form on softer ground and we’ll try to grind her some black type this season.”

The super-consistent hurdler Spiritofthegames has been sent chasing by Dan Skelton this term – perhaps surprisingly given he looked to have a valuable hurdle handicap in his grasp – but immediately vindicated the trainer’s decision by beating some highly rated horses in a listed race at Chepstow. Sent off the 7/1 outsider of four, he may have benefited from Master Tommytucker’s fall, but saw off his other two rivals Monbeg Legend (OR 147) and Poetic Rhythm with relative ease. “We always hoped he could step up a level over fences,” said a delighted Skelton “and he is very good fresh. But he doesn’t want to race right-handed.” There is a question mark over just how good this form is, however, after Monbeg Legend’s no excuses defeat to the versatile – but possibly not top-drawer – Cubomania at Cheltenham. This form line could prove instructive over the course of the winter.

Lough Derg Spirit won over 2.5 miles at Wetherby, his striking turn of foot having pressured decent prospect El Terremoto into a mistake four out. But Nicky Henderson’s Arkle hope made two jumping errors himself at three and two out, the former a particularly novicey mistake, and he will have to improve his jumping technique to be a true graded race contender. Yet rider Nico de Boinville described the errors as “nothing too major”, and added more importantly that “they didn’t knock his confidence…and he’s been schooling well”.

A more surprising development was Dynamite Dollars’ explosion [sorry] onto the top-class novice chasing scene. This steady 132-rated hurdler delivered a 9-length demolition [really sorry] of 142-rated odds-on favourite Highway One O One at Market Rasen, and looks like a chasing natural for Paul Nicholls.

On the other hand, a hurdler with a big reputation flopped on chase debut at Ffos Las. Vision des Flos was runner up in two Grade One hurdles at Aintree and Punchestown in April, and went off Evens favourite despite a deep-looking field. However he never settled at all, unseated Tom Scudamore at the 6th, and then ran most of the rest of the 2m5f without his jockey. His next run will be instructive.


On ground described as ‘good’ at Kempton – but which seemed quicker – Verdana Blue easily dispatched the field in a listed 2m contest. The performance was visually impressive, but given the race conditions she was a worthy odds-on favourite, and another note of caution was added by Nicky Henderson, who reminded punters that “she has to have this [quick] ground”.

The Welsh “Champion Hurdle” – actually a Class 2 handicap, don’t forget – saw legendary The New One finish in a sad and distant 7th place, with Nigel Twiston-Davies unable to rule out retirement as an option. The winner, Silver Streak for Evan Williams, was backed like defeat wasn’t an option and at just 5-years-old still looks progressive even off a revised mark of 145. Bigger prizes could yet be within his grasp this term.

Among last season’s juveniles, we are yet to see potential superstar We Have A Dream, but two of the other high-profile 4-year-olds were beaten over 2 miles at Cheltenham. Gumball, heavily backed before the off, was dreadful. A generous interpretation is that he may need a flat track, having now been well beaten at HQ on all three starts; a less generous judge would question the validity of his form last season. Alan King’s Redicean was friendless in the market, yet although he was beaten he did show a fighting attitude, staying on gamely up the hill to claim second place. He shaped like a progressive horse that wants further, and had to give no fewer than 15 pounds to the Irish-based winner, Pearl Of The West, who looks a handy front-running mare. The Mares’ Hurdle in March was confirmed as her season’s target by trainer John McConnell, and this may in time rank as decent form.


Due to a combination of the racing calendar and the fast ground, there hasn’t yet been any truly top class open chasing action in the UK, but two horses have shown signs of coming back to their best.  Mia’s Storm had a very satisfactory pipe-opener in a class 2 handicap hurdle at Uttoxeter and seemed more like her exuberant self again. She seemed to lose confidence last season after a nasty fall at Kempton (when setting off 5/2 favourite in the Grade One Kauto Star Novices’ Chase) but if she has regained her mettle, she may be underrated in big races run on good ground this term. Another horse potentially back to form is Kim Bailey’s Charbel, who won a valuable 2.5 mile handicap chase at Chepstow off a stiff mark of 154, and now rated 159, will surely be seen back in graded company this season. This efficient jumper pushed Altior for speed (before sadly falling) in the 2017 Arkle, and if back to that level, can again be a player in top races.

Meanwhile, Paul Nicholls may have found two realistic outsiders for the Ryanair. Modus was back to winning ways in a valuable handicap at HQ despite belting the fence three out, and showed steel to get his neck in front, putting to bed any previous questions over his attitude. This was a strangely run race, and Modus shaped like a stayer despite it being run over 2 miles. Paul Nicholls felt similarly, saying Modus “probably wants further than 2 miles now.” There have never been any doubts about the tough-as-nails Frodon’s temperament, but his ability has been queried. Yet shouldering top weight in a classy handicap over 2.5 miles at Aintree, he produced a foot-perfect round of jumping under the horse whisperer that is Bryony Frost and held off his rivals. Now rated in the 160s, he will be back in graded races.

In Ireland, the Grade 3 Irish Daily Star Chase over 3m1f at Punchestown saw an exemplary performance from Henry de Bromhead’s Sub Lieutenant, who dismissed Outlander by 9 lengths and Sandymount Duke by 16 lengths to record an RPR of 163 with what appeared to be a minimum of effort. With a performance like that, he could come into considerations for a festival staying chase run on truly good ground in Spring.

Juveniles & Bumpers

It’s still a little early in the season for many of the best raw, young horses to have been seen on a racecourse, but even so there have been a few eyecatchers already.

McFabulous beat an expensively assembled field at Chepstow on his first start under rules, and given that Paul Nicholls confirmed that “this was the first time he has been on grass…he hasn’t left the farm” he is certainly one to note, especially given the trainer’s further comment that “he could go for the Cheltenham bumper in November but he has schooled so he could go hurdling”.

Fergal O’Brien has a powerful team of bumper horses this term, and Strong Glance lived up to his name with a strong finish up the hill to win a deep-field bumper at HQ. The Cotswolds trainer looks to have a good stayer in the making. Runner-up Master Debonair also showed promise for Colin Tizzard, pushing the winner hard despite not being race-fit.

And finally, what you’ve all been waiting for: yes, the guessing games over Willie Mullins’ pecking order of young horses can officially begin again. Another year of speculation, confusion and, ultimately, bewilderment no doubt awaits. Kalanisi Og cost a mere €2,000 and was allowed to go off at 5/1 in a low-profile race at Galway, yet proceeded to win easily; meanwhile the much fancied and hyped Hollowgraphic sadly died from a bout of colic. You won’t often find this column advising against ante-post betting, but these events were another reminder, if one is ever needed, to stay away from Champion Bumper markets…for now at least!
Ante-Post Bets Summary

Advised Today:
Dinons – Albert Bartlett – 0.5 pts e/w – 25/1 (General)

2018/19 Season Preview

The days are getting shorter, the air is (gradually) getting colder, and department stores have started playing the same old Christmas hits over the loudspeakers on repeat – but it’s not all bad, because that means it’s time for the jumps racing season to begin in earnest. The most dedicated jumps followers may have had a flutter on some of the Summer action, but the top-class British horses will only start heading back to the racecourse over the coming weeks, starting at Chepstow. There’s a fascinating season of racing ahead, with champions looking to become all-time greats, and some of the most exciting young horses for many years seeking to dethrone them.

Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated clash may take place in the 2-mile chasing division. The undisputed king is Altior, who despite a season interrupted by injury, swept past the field using his unrivalled finishing speed to land the Champion Chase in breathtaking style. The pretender to the throne is Footpad, a horse whose pinpoint and fluid jumping technique has seen him progress from a good hurdler into a potentially great chaser: Footpad hammered the field in all five of his starts last term, including the ruthless demolition of a strong Arkle field. But with Altior trained by Nicky Henderson in the UK, and Footpad trained by Willie Mullins in Ireland, the much anticipated battle may not ultimately take place until the Champion Chase at Cheltenham. Even if that is the case, it promises to be worth waiting for.

Staying chasers always capture the imagination, but with the Jockey Club offering a £1 million bonus for winning the so-called ‘Triple Crown’, and the possible return of the high-class Thistlecrack and ex-champ Sizing John from injury, jumps fans are licking their lips in anticipation even more than usual. The winner of the epic 2018 Gold Cup, Native River, is an out-and-out stayer who relishes tough conditions, which makes him ideally suited to the first of the three legs of the triple crown, the Betfair Chase at Haydock. Yet Bristol de Mai is a proven course-specialist who has an exemplary record at the Lancashire venue, and he’ll be targeted at the race by Nigel Twiston-Davies. The next major clash will be the King George, ran on Boxing Day at Kempton, a track which generally rewards a high cruising speed and out-and-out class and as such is made for unlucky Gold Cup runner-up Might Bite. And there looks sure to be yet another major player to add to the mix in the Gold Cup itself, as impressive RSA Chase winner Presenting Percy has shown he simply loves the Cheltenham hill, with a 2/2 record at the Festival. If even most of these top horses stay fit, it could be an unforgettable season of chasing action.

The hurdling divisions also contain no lack of intrigue. Two-time Champion Hurdler Buveur d’Air is still only 7 and has every chance of retaining his crown, although he never truly convinced last season, only getting up by a neck to beat Melon at Prestbury Park. That could tempt Gordon Elliott into keeping the most exciting horse in training over hurdles this term. That horse is potential superstar Samcro, who lived up to his substantial hype when winning the Ballymore and Deloitte Novice Hurdles last season in fine style. This physically imposing specimen was bought to be a chaser, but can Gigginstown’s O’Leary brothers really resist a tilt at the Champion Hurdle? Even if Samcro does go chasing, Buveur d’Air is likely to face a serious challenge from other up-and-coming horses. Summerville Boy won a strong-looking Supreme Novices Hurdle in a quick time, but the Tom George-trained 6-year-old will need to improve his careless hurdling technique. Last year’s juveniles seemed a mixed bunch, looking to have ability but running inconsistently, until the aptly-named We Have A Dream delivered a dream performance at Aintree in April, which suggested a serious tilt at this year’s Champion Hurdle could be a reality.

Meanwhile in staying hurdles, all eyes will be on the great Faugheen, who stormed back to somewhere near his magnificent best with a 13 length defeat of two-time Stayers Hurdle champion Penhill at Punchestown in April. Was this a glorious one-off or can the 10-year-old roll back the years and dominate again?

And what of those hurdlers from last season who will now look to take on the bigger obstacles in novice chases? If Samcro does go chasing, he will prove hard to beat, but one horse who would relish a battle with him is also well-named, the reliable and battle-hardened Kalashnikov, narrow runner up in the Supreme Novices Hurdle and previously winner of a hard-fought Betfair Hurdle. Paul Nicholls, who has had a dearth of top-class horses recently, cannot hide his excitement with the “massive” Topofthegame, who “reminds him of Denman” – and there aren’t many bigger compliments than being compared to ‘The Tank’. Similarly, Tom George cannot understate how thrilled he is at the prospect of Black Op going chasing, and training genius Nicky Henderson loves Santini’s chances this coming season. With the amount of talent in this division, trainers will struggle to keep their prized horses apart before the Spring festivals, meaning it could be a year full of titanic novice chase battles.

However, even with all of these top clashes due to take place, the jewel in the crown of British jumps racing is still undoubtedly its fiercely competitive big-field handicaps, run throughout the season at even the smaller tracks. Punters will already be seeking clues from stable tours for likely runners in the Ladbroke Trophy at Newbury on 1st December, twice won by Denman and possibly the highest class handicap of the whole season. Of course, the biggest betting race of the year will be the Grand National, and ante-post wagers are already flying in, many on reigning champion Tiger Roll to repeat his victory or 2017 winner One For Arthur to re-gain the title.

Thankfully there’s an almost limitless amount of tremendous racing to watch before we reach Aintree in April. From now until then, every weekend will have at least one meeting of major quality, midweek races are becoming more and more punter-friendly too. So don’t make the mistake of waiting until Cheltenham in March – the action starts now. I’ll be keeping you up to date with all the developments through the season, with a round-up every two weeks, so bookmark this page, and see you back here soon.