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Cheltenham Festival Update
Wed, Feb 3rd, 2016

Mark adds two more bets to his Cheltenham Portfolio.

The performances of Yanworth and Vaniteux certainly gave me reason to be optimistic at the Festival as both were shortened up in their respective markets. The former was clearly most impressive of the pair as he laughed at a pretty smart rival in the shape of Shantou Village and shot to the head of the market for the Neptune. The latter might have taken a little while to warm up in the jumping department but he was neat over the last few and I think he has earned the right to have a crack at Douvan in the Arkle.

Elsewhere, Buveur D'Air and Thistlecrack also warmed up for their Spring assignments with cosy successes and at this stage, My ante-post portfolio looks pretty strong. We have a couple of horses entered this coming weekend including More Of That and Southfield Royale so further price changes aren't out of the question.
I also noticed that Bet365 opened up 'Betting Without' markets this week in the Champion Chase, Champion Hurdle and Ryanair in a bid to increase interest in these races. This is no doubt the first in a number of specials ahead of the Festival and I will keep you informed of any other such offers in the coming weeks.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

All eyes were on Djakadam at Cheltenham on Saturday in the Betbright Trial but having been sent off the 5/6F, he fell at the first fence on the second circuit. This was the second time he has fallen on three visits to Cheltenham and much like his last fall at the venue, he just seemed to clip the top and land too steeply to stay on his feet. He was 7/2 favourite before the race but is now out to around 5/1 for the Gold Cup. Having had to have stitches following his fall, his trainer reported that he will now head straight to the Festival although you would think his fall has made Ruby Walsh's decision to ride him or Vautour a little easier.

Having departed before the race really got going; it was Smad Place who came out on top, getting the better of Many Clouds in the closing stages. The grey jumped brilliantly throughout under Richard Johnson and having won going away at the line, is now set to take his chance in March. Now around 12/1 he seems to be in the form of his life at present and seems to enjoy racing from the front, something they will no doubt try come Gold Cup day.

As for new ante-post favourite Vautour, he could run in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown this Saturday although there are a couple of other options that his trainer is exploring.

World Hurdle

One ante-post favourite who did shorten up over the weekend was Thistlecrack who once again looked a cut above his rivals when running away with the Cleeve Hurdle on Saturday. This is often a good trial for the World Hurdle in March and looking at the ante-post market there don't look to be too many dangers to the market leader. The unknown quantity in the race is Vroum Vroum Mag but other than that, he has already accounted for the rest of his rivals on at least one occasion. There is a part of me that thinks 13/8 is still a good price considering his lack of opposition and I think bookmakers would be justified in clipping him into closer to even money.
Camping Ground had been high up in the ante-post lists prior to the Cleeve but is now as big as 33/1 having finished only fourth on Saturday. He was pretty keen racing over 3m for the first time and I think that exuberance cost him in what was testing ground at the weekend.

Champion Hurdle

It was all fairly quiet on the Champion Hurdle front this week although there were words of encouragement from Nicky Henderson regarding My Tent Or Yours and his prospects of making the Tuesday showpiece. The Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton is likely to be his reappearance run and he is set to have a day away before that assignment. He feels that if he can get him back he can run well in the Champion so we will have to keep fingers crossed that all goes well in the lead up to the Festival.

Some of you may also have noticed that War Sound was nibbled at in the market last week following a positive bulletin from trainer Philip Hobbs. Last year's winner of the Swinton Hurdle has not been seen since then and is likely to run in the Betfair Hurdle in a couple of weeks' time. I find it hard however to see him making an impact on the Champion Hurdle.

Champion Chase

Sunday's Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown was the only race of note in the 2m chasing division this week and saw Felix Yonger get the better of the rejuvenated Flemenstar. The winner does have an entry for the Champion Chase for which he is 16/1 but his trainer also raised the possibility of the ten-year-old heading to Japan for the Nakayama Grand Jump, a race they won with Blackstairmountain a couple of years ago.

Just this morning, Harry Derham also reported that defending Champion Dodging Bullets was on course to reappear in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. He worked over two miles at home last week and his work rider was delighted with his display. He is a general 10/1 shot to defend his crown although we will obviously know more when he runs at Newbury.

Novice Chasers

I've already mentioned Vaniteux briefly at the top but despite making a couple of novicey errors at Doncaster, I was much more impressed than I was at Kempton in December. He has plenty of class and the better ground definitely seemed to help emphasise that as he moved well to lead at the third last. He did seem to have a bit of a look around in front after the last but his jockey reported that there was a strong headwind and he soon knuckled down once the stick was drawn. He was trimmed to 8/1 for the Arkle and that appears to be his target although he was also shortened up in the market for the JLT.

At the start of the week, Monday's meeting at Kempton saw a thrilling finish to their 3m novice chase as Ben Pauling's Local Show held on to deny the Philip Hobbs-trained Onenightinvienna. The National Hunt Chase and the RSA are both targets for the winner at this stage although the runner-up is set to be campaigned for the Grand National in April. I think it is fair to say both will need to improve to compete in their respective targets come the Spring.

Another chaser to catch the eye last week was Harry Fry's Thomas Brown who bounced back from a disappointing run at Ascot in December with an impressive success at Doncaster on Friday. He appreciated the return to three miles and jumped well on the whole in the hands of Brian Hughes. His trainer also believes that better ground is key to this seven-year-old and in truth he looks more one for the handicaps at the Festival rather than the graded chases.

The same could also be said for David Pipe's Doctor Harper who was popular in a few markets following a cosy success at Leicester on Tuesday. He found only L'Ami Serge and Garde La Victoire too good on his first two starts over fences and won with plenty up his sleeve on this occasion. Despite being eight he has been restricted to only 13 starts under rules and it will be interesting to see where he is entered up by connections.

Catterick's meeting on Wednesday was also brightened up as Warren Greatrex sent Out Sam for a confidence booster, having thrown him in at the deep end in Grade 2 company. A smart novice hurdler for Nicky Henderson, his new connections think a lot of him and he has entries in both the RSA and the JLT chases at the Festival. He is likely to have another run before Cheltenham in a slightly higher grade and whilst his winning margin is exaggerated by his main rival falling, it was still an impressive performance from the seven-year-old.

The final one to mention is King's Odyssey who got his head in front on Saturday but having won that off a mark of 139, he would sit pretty high in the weights in a handicap going forward. He has now won two of his three starts over fences and having been given an entry in the JLT, connections may decide to go down that route rather than carry a big weight in one of the handicaps.

Novice Hurdlers

Last season's Champion Bumper third Wait For Me won for the second time over hurdles on Monday but made life difficult for himself with a series of jumping errors, especially in the second half of the race. Richard Johnson suggested he was just a little green when he came out from behind horses and that he was taking a little longer to learn than normal. He was pushed out for the Supreme and the Neptune on the back of this effort and you couldn't disagree considering how much work his jumping would need for the Festival.

On the same card, Ben Pauling's A Hare Breath justified short odds and despite being dismounted after the line, all appears to be well with the eight-year-old. The subject of a sustained gamble at Cheltenham in November he had no problem over this new trip but his trainer said he is likely to revert to two miles in future. He is likely to get an entry in the Supreme although he did warn that the County Hurdle was a more realistic target for him.

The form of Altior's win at Kempton in December was given another boost during the week as Gwafa got off the mark at the second attempt with a wide margin victory at Fakenham. A smart horse on the flat for Marco Botti, he set a pretty frantic pace for most of the contest and sustained it well to draw right away from his rivals on the run to the last. He could only finish sixth behind Altior on his hurdling debut but looks a smart recruit to the jumping game, although Aintree may be his preferred target.

At the higher end of the novice hurdling division, you would struggle to find a more impressive performance than Yanworth turned in on Saturday as he turned the Neptune Trial into a precession. He was still on the bridle after the final flight and he put a good horse in Shantou Village to the sword in a matter of strides and he now looks the one to beat in the Neptune at the Festival.

The Albert Bartlett also looks to have a strong favourite in the shape of Barters Hill who once again showed how tough he was when winning for the seventh time under rules on Saturday at Doncaster. It looked as though he may be in trouble on the run to the last but he pulled out more under David Bass and toughed it out to win by three-quarters of a length. The test that the Albert Bartlett provides looks right up this horse's street and he looks Ben Pauling's best chance of getting a first Cheltenham Festival winner.

In the Supreme market, Buveur D'Air was clipped into a general 8/1 shot having followed up his Newbury success with another smooth performance at Huntingdon on Friday. It was good to see him switch off behind horses and although his trainer raised the possibility of him running in the Neptune, I feel 2m is his best trip at the moment. The form of his hurdling debut was given two boosts last week with Wait For Me (2nd) and Big Chief Benny (3rd) both coming out and winning and that now means that the first five home have now got their head in front subsequently.

The new mares' novice hurdle has a short-priced favourite as Limini confirmed her wellbeing with a facile victory at Fairyhouse on Saturday. She is now two from two in Ireland and although her jumping was less than fluent on occasions, her jockey suggested that a stronger pace and better ground should help her in that regard. She is now as short as 8/11 for the final race on Thursday especially as stablemate Myska fluffed her lines at Punchestown on Sunday.

On this side of the Irish Sea, Brian Ellison's Smart Talk laid down a marker with victory in the Grade 2 Mares' Hurdle at Doncaster, getting the better of more experienced mares such as Lily Waugh and Morning Run. She is clearly progressing well of late and had no problem dropping back to two miles so looks pretty versatile in terms of trip. Whether she has met anything as good as Limini yet is hard to say but she looks worth her place in the line-up.

Triumph Hurdle

The JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham on Saturday saw a bit of a shock as Nicky Henderson's Protek Des Flos spoiled the party by winning at 25/1. His trainer said afterwards that he had shown very little at home and had the entries for the Triumph already closed he wouldn't have got one. However he expects him to improve for that initial outing and was given a fine patient ride by Noel Fehily in testing conditions.

Paul Nicholls' Clan Des Obeaux finished second and lost little in defeat having sat close to a pretty strong pace early on. He will no doubt be better next year and looks a nice horse for the future. As does Henderson's other runner Consul De Thaix who shaped with a lot of promise on just his second visit to a racecourse. The disappointment of the race was probably Who Dares Wins who set a strong pace in tough conditions and probably paid for those exertions in the closing stages here. A Triumph Hurdle on better ground could show him in a different light although his trainer Alan King has several options for that contest.

Fixe Le Kap was another juvenile winner for the Seven Barrows team during the week as he made it two from two at Warwick on Thursday. He was very professional and although his competition wasn't up to much, he couldn't have won any easier under Daryl Jacob. His trainer believes he enjoys soft ground and although he wouldn't run him on fast ground, he was open to the possibility of good ground come the Spring. He could now head for the Victor Ludorum at Haydock before Cheltenham in March.

Whilst not necessarily Triumph Hurdle horses, Neil Mulholland looks to have a couple of progressive juveniles on his hands in the shape of Pinkie Brown and Harley Rebel. Formerly trained by Nick Williams, he jumped pretty well at Wetherby last week on ground he wouldn't have liked and his trainer is hopeful of a better showing when the ground dries up. The latter chased home an unexposed Dan Skelton mare and would have gone closer but for a mistake at the last. Both horses look worth keeping an eye on in the near future.

Champion Bumper

There was news from the Willie Mullins' stable this week that general 14/1 shot Augusta Kate is likely to run in either the Mares' Bumper at Sandown or the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham on her next start. She has won her first two starts in bumpers and the runner-up in her last race chased home stablemate Limini over hurdles at the weekend.

One horse who has been confirmed as on track for the Champion Bumper is Very Much So who has been off the track since winning his only start at Punchestown in April 2014. He is owned by the Supreme Racing Club and is best-priced 25/1 for Wednesday's finale.

On the track, the Graham Wylie-owned Battleford was given quotes of 25/1 following his debut success at Punchestown yesterday. He made all under Patrick Mullins and having impressed on the gallops at home, it was indicated that he could be bound for Cheltenham in six weeks' time.

Foxhunters

On The Fringe continues to head the market and has shortened up since the news that the only horse to beat him last season Prince De Beauchene has been retired. Enda Bolger's charge is likely to reappear at Leopardstown at the weekend before being targeted at the clean sweep of Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown again this year.

Mendip Express had his first start for his new owners at Warwick last week and on what we saw there, I find it hard to see him causing On The Fringe any problems. The fact that he is 8/1 third favourite for the race shows the lack of depth in this field and I am surprised that the market leader is not much shorter.

The big story in the point-to-pointing ranks is the burgeoning riding career of Victoria Pendleton and she was beaten a neck when riding her Foxhunters' mount Pacha Du Polder for the first time on Sunday. He was second to On The Fringe at Aintree last season but I find it hard to see him reversing the placings at Cheltenham come March.

Cross Country Chase

I thought I should also quickly mention that the top two in the market for the Cross Country Chase Josies Orders and Quantitativeeasing are likely to have a spin over hurdles next month in order to prepare them for the big target at the Cheltenham Festival. All seems to be well with both horses and not for the first time Enda Bolger looks to hold all the cards in this specialist event.

Bets

ON THE FRINGE (Foxhunters Chase) – 2pts win @ 5/2 (General)

As I explained above, following the news that Long Run and Prince De Beauchene will now not line-up in the Foxhunters, I find it hard to see what will trouble Enda Bolger's eleven-year-old having won the race by seventeen lengths last season. The supposed dangers include Marito and Mendip Express but their form is well below that of the favourite and I am surprised that On The Fringe is not odds-on to retain his crown. It may be that people are waiting to see that all is well with the eleven-year-old but he is entered at the weekend at Leopardstown so we will have the benefit of that knowledge this time next week. We aren't going to get rich going in on 5/2 shots but in this instance I think he should be much shorter and is likely to be so this time next week.

BLOODY MARY (Mares Novice Hurdle) – 0.5pt e/w @ 14/1 (General)

Our second bet this week is this mare who is declared to run at Taunton tomorrow (2.45) and who has her first start for Nicky Henderson, having won five bumpers and one hurdle in her native France. I think the market for this race is pretty wide open and it wouldn't take much to half her price tomorrow if she wins well for her new connections. Her trainer tends to do well with mares and she looks as though she has been bought with the new novice hurdle in mind. We are obviously taking a chance, having not seen her in Britain yet but she comes from the right stable and could emerge as the main British hope in the race.

Ante-Post Portfolio

VANITEUX (Arkle) – 1pt e/w @ 10/1 (General)

MY TENT OR YOURS (Champion Hurdle) – 0.5pt e/w @ 20/1 (bet365, Stan James, Betfred)

THISTLECRACK (World Hurdle) – 2pts win @ 3/1 (Boylesports, Sportingbet)

DON COSSACK (Cheltenham Gold Cup) – 1pt win @ 7/1 (BetVictor, 32Red)

SOUTHFIELD ROYALE (National Hunt Chase) – 1pt e/w @ 12/1 (Betway, Paddy Power)

GIBRALFARO (Triumph Hurdle) – 1pt e/w @ 20/1 (Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Coral)

ACTIVIAL (JLT) – 0.5pt e/w @ 25/1 (SkyBet, Racebets)

BUVEUR D'AIR (Supreme) – 1pt e/w @ 12/1 (SportingBet, Ladbrokes, Betfair)

VAUTOUR (Champion Chase) – 2pts win @ 5/2 NRNB (Bet365, SkyBet, William Hill)

MORE OF THAT (RSA) – 2pts win @ 5/1 (Bet365, Ladbrokes, William Hill)

BLUE HELL (County Hurdle) – 1pt e/w @ 14/1 (SkyBet)

TRAFFIC FLUIDE (Champion Chase) – 1pt e/w @ 16/1 NRNB (Ladbrokes, SkyBet)

YANWORTH (Neptune) – 1pt e/w @ 9/1 (Boylesports, William Hill)

MYSTICAL KNIGHT (Albert Bartlett) – 0.5pt e/w @ 33/1 (SkyBet, Stan James, Coral)

ON THE FRINGE (Foxhunters Chase) – 2pts win @ 5/2 (General)

BLOODY MARY (Mares Novice Hurdle) – 0.5pt e/w @ 14/1 (General)

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