Valuebet’s Joe Whitaker takes a look at next week’s Cheltenham Festival
So the biggest week of the racing calendar is merely days away and the question as always, has been asked many times recently, ‘What do you fancy at Cheltenham?’.
An old boss of mine always said of Cheltenham week, “Get the jolly beat in the first’. By this he was saying get your bank off to a good start by sticking your neck out and laying the favourite of the first race, the Supreme Novices Hurdle on Tuesday.
As races go, this isn’t a great race for the favourite. For National Hunt horses these are the youngsters and you want something that has won over the 2-mile distance.
I have done well in this race over the years backing winners like Menorah, Go Native and Captain Cee Bee. This years favourite is the Willie Mullins trained GETABIRD. It is clearly a special horse but I am quite happy to lay it myself.
I felt the same about last year’s favourite Melon and there was one good enough to get it beat. I like the Nicky Henderson trained CLAIMANTAKINFORGAN, who had a decent spin around Cheltenham in last years Bumper, finishing 3rd. At odds of around 14/1 it could be a shrewd each way option.
A favourite I do like the look of is the Willie Mullins trained FOOTPAD in the Arkle. It was very impressive last time out at Leopardstown last month, enjoying the distance and being exemplary over the fences. It’s drifted somewhat in the markets, and if you can get 6/4 on the day, I would.
The main feature of the Tuesday is the Champion Hurdle. It appears to be a clash between the classy BUVEUR DAIR and the once unbeatable FAUGHEEN. The seven year old up and coming superstar against the 10 year old fans favourite. If it was boxing it would be Tyson-Holmes and the racing community has been looking forward to this one. I feel the younger horse wins but the value must be with FAUGHEEN at 5/1 . You don’t become a poor horse overnight and he may just have one last huge run in him.
On Wednesday or Day Two, I like the chances of MONALEE in the Royal & Sun Alliance Chase. A decent second in last years Albert Bartlett, it won the Flogas Chase at Leopardstown last month and looks like the one to beat.
Available at odds of around 7/2 currently, I cant see it being far away.
Another tough race which tends to be good for the bookies is the Champion Bumper. Again these are the younger horses and its hard to know which will take to Cheltenham on a festival day.
The talk coming from Ireland is that the well bred RHINESTONE, a son of the famous Montjeu, is looking like a Bumper winner at home.
He was second to the Antepost favourite Blackbow at Leopardstown last month, coming with a late run and not getting up. The Joseph O’Brien and JP McManus set-up are really sweet on his chances and I will be having a punt on it myself whilst the 8/1 is still available.
Perhaps my biggest fancy of the week is the Ruth Jefferson trained WAITING PATIENTLY in the Ryanair Chase.
It comes off the back of an emotional win in the Betfair Chase at Ascot, with the late Malcolm Jefferson having been buried the day before.
They were considering bypassing Cheltenham for Aintree though they have gone for it and I think they will really fancy their chances.
It idled slightly on the run in but did more than enough at Ascot to beat the ever present Cue Card. I feel that form is slightly better than what many people put it down as. The 3rd in the race Frodon had just won a decent Group3 at Cheltenham in January.
The week climaxes with the Gold Cup on the Friday.
It promises to be a great atmosphere with even more of the Irish on course and on the Guinness ahead of the rugby clash at Twickenham the day after. But does an Irish horse win it again? I don’t think so, with last years winner Sizing John having had an unsettled campaign.
He looked off colour to finish midfield in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown. The horse I like the most in the showpiece is the winner of the race two years ago, NATIVE RIVER. The Colin Tizzard trained chaser beat a 3 horse field in the Denman Chase at Newbury last month in its only run since finishing 3rd to Sizing John last year.
He clearly loves it around Cheltenham and recent money for it suggests the early signs are good.
But as always, enjoy the week for what it is, pure entertainment. Bet to your pocket and keep within a staking plan is the best advice I can offer. Do not get dismayed if the week doesn’t start well, look at how you did over the week come Friday teatime.