This week’s column contains the following:
• The best equine and human performances from the weekend’s horse racing;
• The second part of my Cheltenham Festival Briefing, looking at the Neptune Novice Hurdle picture, with a 20/1 shot looking a bit of each way value;
• A brief look ahead to Thursday’s Thyestes Handicap Chase at Gowran Park and some of the key stats to have on your side;
• This week’s horses for your notebook.
Bristol Jumps Into Gold Cup Picture
The highlight of the weekend’s horse racing was undoubtedly Bristol De Mai’s win in the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock. One of my ten horses to follow, that I gave to Eyecatcher Pro subscribers at the start of the National Hunt Season, the six year old gave one of the jumping performances of the season to beat a good field of staying handicappers by 22 lengths, a margin of victory which was slightly accentuated by a mistake by the eventual runner-up at the last but that one was beaten at the time and the winner would still have won by ten lengths or more. He has now jumped himself into the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture after this and he deserves to take his chance at the Festival. Granted he has to improve to beat a Thistlecrack but given he’s only a 6-year-old there is every chance he can progress further. Granted he looks a better horse with plenty of juice in the ground although he did finish 2nd on good ground in the JLT Novice Chase at last year’s Festival. The extra distance of the Gold Cup could also find him out but when a horse jumps and travels, as well as this, then he will always give himself a chance of staying. Apart from Thistlecrack the race is wide open and profile wise I can’t see much between him and Native River, apart from the latter being a 5/1 chance whilst Bristol De Mai can still be backed at 20/1. I certainly wouldn’t put anyone off backing the horse each way!
Kennedy’s Heading For the Top!
If Bristol De Mai was the equine performance of the weekend then young Irish Jockey Jack Kennedy gave us the best jockey performance when winning the big handicap chase at Leopardstown on Sunday on the Gordon Elliott trained A Toi Phil. The horse looked to have little chance at the bend and even coming to the last he was only 9th but under a strong ride from the jockey he got the horse up in the shadow of the past. It was the second weekend running that the young jockey had won the big Sunday handicap chase over in Ireland. I have mentioned before I how highly I rate David Mullins and the more I see of Jack Kennedy the more I think he is another bound for the very top of the jockey profession. If they both stay clear of serious injuries they look set to battle it out for Irish Champion Jockey title for many years to come.
Ante Post – Cheltenham Festival Briefing
Neptune Novices Hurdle
Having looked two weeks ago at the Supreme Novice Hurdle picture today I turn my attention to the Neptune Novices Hurdle. Normally run on the Wednesday of the Festival. The race is open to four-year-old or older over a distance of the 2m 5f. A bit like the Supreme Novice Hurdle there is no standout performer and the identity of the Willie Mullins number one hope has still to be revealed. All in all, it looks another open looking race.
Recent Tolworth Hurdle winner Finian’s Oscar trained by Colin Tizzard, is now favourite in all the bookies ante-post lists for the race at around 4/1. This race looks a better option for the horse than the Supreme. He had a definite chance but I can’t see him going off much less than 4/1 come the day of the race so there is no value in his price at present.
The Alan King-trained Messire Des Obeaux won the Challow Hurdle well from the Gordon Elliott trained Baltazar D’Allier. The runner-up is seen as a future chaser in the making so doesn’t look like he will be heading to Cheltenham for this race. The King horse also had more hurdling experience and got first run on his rivals. He was a good winner but did he look like a Neptune winner? I have my reservations.
Death Duty trained by Gordon Elliott made it 4 wins from 4 runs over hurdles when winning a Grade 1 at Naas at the beginning of January. He is clearly one of the best staying novices in Ireland but the Albert Bartlett has always looked his most likely target but interestingly he is as short as 6/1 with Coral for the Neptune. Will be interesting to see which race he goes for of the two.
Any Second Now trained By Ted Walsh was an unfancied 66/1 winner of a maiden at Navan before Christmas and followed that up when beating one of my Supreme Novices fancies Crack Mome in the Moscow Flyer Novices Hurdle at Punchestown. Owned by J P McManus, the son of Oscar looks a very smart horse in the making. He might prefer softer ground but there is no doubting there is plenty of improvement to come from, He travelled well and showed a decent turn of foot when winning at Punchestown. The five-year-old is a possible for both this and the Supreme. He is a bit of a ‘wild card’ and is an interesting contender for whichever race he goes for. He can be backed at a generally available 16/1 for the Neptune.
Invitation Only looks the best of the Mullins horses at present, certainly if you look at the ante-post betting. He was a good winner at long odds-on (1/4) on his hurdle debut at Gowran Park but disappointed just before Christmas when only 3rd to Death Duty at Navan in a Grade 2 contest. Too early to write him off given connections and he could still turn out to be a star. A son of Flemensfirth, it’s worth bearing in mind the sire’s progeny doesn’t have the best of records at the Festival – 3 winners from 84 runners 4% A/E 0.55 -62 13 places. That’s a big negative for me and even at 12/1, he doesn’t interest me. The one thing that you guarantee is that he does look a likely runner.
Of the other Mullins possible’s Bacardys is an interesting one. The six-year-old was an excellent 3rd in last year’s Champion Bumper before going onto to reverse placings with the two who had finished in front of him at Cheltenham, when taking the big Aintree Bumper. Looked the likely winner when falling three out on his hurdle debut at Cork in November but he showed no ill effects for the mishap when going on to win a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown at Christmas. Given he twisted a shoe before the race what looked a workmanlike win can probably be upgraded. That win was over 2m and he shapes like the 2m 5f of the Neptune will be ideal for the gelding. Would need to improve to win a Neptune on what he has shown so far but he has only had two starts over hurdles so he is open to any amount of progress in the sphere particularly when stepping up to 2m 4f.
Verdict: Death Duty is a solid contender but he isn’t a certain runner for this. Any Second Now also holds a Supreme entry but he would be very interesting if heading for this race. However, at the prices and in open looking race the 20/1 available on Bacardys looks the best value to me at the moment.
Thyestes Chase Preview – Gowran Park – Thursday 26th January
The Goffs Thyestes Handicap Chase is one of the highlights on the Irish National Hunt season and it’s welcome that it’s run during the week. If this race was in Britain it would have been moved to a Saturday by now. Seven of the last ten winners of the race had contested the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown, the Tim Duggan Memorial at Limerick or Welsh National at Chepstow over Christmas period. A big field is expected for the race which is worth €59,000 to the winner and was won last year by My Murphy.
Here is a quick look at the race and some of the key trends from the last 10 running of the race:
Officially rated 145 or less: 10/10
Between 1 and 5 runs that season: 10/10
No wins over fences that season: 10/10
Seven or fewer runs in handicap chases: 10/10
Bred in Ireland: 9/10
Aged between 8 and 11: 9/10
Previously finished in the first three at Gowran Park: 9/10
One favourite has won the race in the past ten years – Djakadam in 2015 who went on finish 2nd in that year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Six of the last 10 winners have gone off between 10/1 and 20/1
Those trends look fairly strong and I have used them to cut the field down to a shortlist of 8 contenders – Ucello Conti, Monty’s Meadow, Prince of Scars, Bonny Kate, Rogue Trader, Texas Jack, The Crafty Butcher and Sonny B – I will be disappointed if the winner of this years Thyestes isn’t among that group. I will cut the list back further and hopefully have a couple of selections available to subscribers on Wed evening after 9 pm!
This Weeks Eyecatchers
There are just two notebook horses for you this week, on what has been a fairly but as ever I will be adding several more for Eyecatcher Pro subscribers:
Tuesday 17th January
Tolkiens Tango – Victor Dartnell – The 9-year-old was having his first start since March when pulling up over C&D. He was still in contention when making a slight mistake four out. That mishap put him on the back foot and the lack of a recent run also took its toll on the horse. He only made 3 starts last season which suggests he has had a few problems with his fitness. Three of his five career wins have come in February and March, so this is very much his time of year and he’s 4 wins from 15 runs 7 places with soft in the going description. He has now dropped back to his last winning mark.
Valbchek – Jane Chapple-Hyam – The 8-year-old was only beaten ¾ of a length into 4th in this competitive looking Class 3 handicap over 7f. He is certainly knocking on the door at present and is now 3lb below his last winning mark. A welcome return to form for the horse who is 0 wins from 6 runs at Kempton but 3 wins from 4 runs at Lingfield, will be of interest when returning to that track. He is also 3 wins from 5 runs in March/April. Three of his four career wins have come when racing 8 to 30 days since his last start! There is a handicap in the gelding when all the cards fall right.
Next week I will be taking a look at how my Cheltenham ante-post betting portfolio is shaping up, as well as casting my eye over the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle picture for the Festival Briefing.
All that’s left is to wish you a profitable weeks betting!