Two more sleeps until the best four days of the year. Cheltenham is like Christmas coming around again only it’s March, minus the relatives you dislike and their mundane presents. For the first time in a few years I haven’t a huge portfolio of bets, the only ones up to this point being Un Temps Pour Tout for the World Hurdle at 20/1 which looks like value given he is no bigger than 12/1 and looks to have a fair chance, whilst I took a small chance on Full Shift for the Martin Pipe at 20/1, though he is unraced since going off fav in the race last year.
Needless to say this close to the Festival a lot of the value is gone, though that’s expected with the markets moving from ante post to NRNB. That said, there are still a few that catch the eye and are worth chancing; those are:
Creepy Novices Handicap Chase, 5.15 Tuesday 33/1 NRNB
One of my main fancies of the festival if he turns up here (also entered in the Kim Muir). Talented hurdler, though he took five attempts to break his maiden, he did so in what proved to be a very good novice hurdle at Chepstow in October 2013, comfortably making all to beat a very talented hurdler in Splash of Ginge by 2 ¼ lengths (won the Betfair Hurdle off a mark of 132, duel winning chaser), with the 132 rated Gassin Gulf 11 lengths back in 3rd, and showed improved form two starts later to land a Gr.2 novice hurdle at Cheltenham over an extended 2 ½ miles, though he never quite reproduced that form again over hurdles, disappointing in a couple of tries on ground that was too soft, before looking like he had one run too many by the time he came to Cheltenham.
He gave the impression that he’d be a better chaser than a hurdler, and he created a huge impression first start over fences. Having gone straight into a handicap off a mark of 130, he jumped beautifully from the front, literally jumping his rivals in to the ground over 3 miles at Chepstow off a good pace (two that tried to go with him but were beaten out of sight have franked the form, one was a runner up in a more valuable race next time out, beaten a neck, Cloudy Bob the other has won a handicap since and was runner up at Kempton last time out). He created the impression that he could be an RSA horse after that performance, but things haven’t quite gone as well since, unseating next time out at Cheltenham in what was probably the best novice chase ran all season (very well backed). Jumping well, he did hit the 12th fence, and still hadn’t been asked for an effort at the 15th when knuckling on landing and unseating his rider in a race won by Kings Palace who features at the top of the RSA betting. That ground looked unsuitably soft for the gelding that day, and the same was reported when he pulled up in the Gr.1 Feltham.
He ran once more since, extremely surprisingly over 2 miles at Wetherby in January in a handicap that he was well supported for, with different tactics applied, held up, he never really looked to be travelling and was well beaten. He’ll come here fresh which should do him the world of good, expect him to race prominently and hopefully jump them into the ground. He does carry top weight, but a mark of 140 wouldn’t be beyond him if he runs like he did at Chepstow. He jumps and stays, and 33/1 does look a big price, again NRNB in the
event that he does go for the Kim Muir, though hopefully he shows up here. Bold Henry is seriously feared, and is worth a saver on.
Stake: 3 points win, 1 point win Bold Henry 20/1
Rajdhani Express Festival Plate 4.00 Thursday, 20/1 William Hill (Antepost), 16/1 NRNB
Most of my fancies are for the handicaps given they still do represent a bit of value, and Rajdhani Express looks a big price here at 20/1 though antepost rules do apply, I’d say he could go off nearer 12 or 14/1 on the day. Though British bred (by Presenting), he’s from a French family and typically started off his racing career early, going hurdling at three in France, winning twice and was runner up in a gr.3 before coming to Britain. He had three starts over hurdles this side of the Channel without making much impact, but he has proven to be a far better chaser, having shown some very strong form over fences. Having finished 2nd to Elenika first time out over fences, he looked a horse with a really bright future two starts later (unseated in between when travelling well), winning a Kempton St Stephen’s Day 2012 handicap in the manner of an extremely well handicapped horse, jumping and travelling superbly to win by half the track off a mark of 129.
He put a bad run following that (too bad to be true) to run one of his best races to date, winning the Novices Handicap Chase at the Festival 2 years ago off a mark of 140, just hanging on to the late effort of Ackertac, with the pair nicely clear of the 3rd, before rounding off that season on a high note, winning a Gr.2 at Ayr over the same trip the following month, albeit somewhat fortuitously given his rival unseated at the last when just getting his head in front, though the race was still to be settled.
He’s winless since, but he’s taken his form to a new level, running a good race to be 5th, beaten 8 lengths by John’s Spirit in the Paddy Power next start off a mark of 155, and ran arguably his best race to date at the Festival last year when an excellent 3rd behind Dynaste in the Gr.1 Ryanair, beaten 3 1/2 lengths.
He hasn’t been as good since, looking a bit hit and miss, unseating on his seasonal reappearance at Aintree, though he did fare better than the result may suggest when 4th behind Al Ferof at the same track next time out, probably doing too much too soon. He did put a bad run in next time out at Huntingdon, and whilst he was beaten 33 lengths behind Rocky Creek in the BetBright Chase at Kempton, he ran much better than the bare result, catching the eye travelling extremely well, weakening on his first attempt at the 3 mile trip on bad ground. The handicapper looks to have been very generous dropping him 3lbs for that, and he should make a bold bid here.
Stake: 2.5 points e/w
Grand Vision Kim Muir Handicap Chase 4.40 Thursday, 20/1 Ladbrokes, NRNB
The easier of the two three mile handicap chases at the Festival, I’d have even backed him for the Ultima Handicap Chase if he went there, but 20/1 for this lower class race looks a very good price and is worth chancing. Another horse who is much more talented than his strike rate may suggest, the gelding has only won twice from seventeen starts, and it’s been over three years since the last of those victories, coming quite impressively in one of the Pertemps qualifiers at Haydock over 3 miles, running the rest of the field into the ground off a clearly low mark of 122. He showed plenty of potential thereafter, bypassing the Pertemps at that season’s Festival instead going for the gr.1 Albert Bartlett, running a big race to be beaten 3 1/4 lengths into third behind the ill-fated Brindisi Breeze and the talented Boston Bob.
His career has been stop start since then, with injury ruling him out for nearly two years, pulling up on his return to the track, but ran with plenty of promise next time out in a Warwick handicap hurdle, beaten 2 3/4 lengths off a mark of 140 by a subsequent winner. He fared better than the bare result would suggest next time behind Saphir de Rheu at Ffos Lass, though didn’t show much at either Festival (notably short in the betting for the Pertemps at Cheltenham, going off only 12/1).
He went chasing this season, and was in the process of running a big race first time out in a valuable 2 3/4 mile novice at Haydock first time out before falling four out, having jumped and travelled well into the lead, leaving the 147 rated subsequent gr.2 winner Virak in the lead, possibly a fortuitous victor. He did run disappointingly next time, though did run better than the result may suggest when behind Irish Saint over a trip probably too short, just missing out on 2nd to Thomas Crapper, current fav for the Novices’ Handicap Chase on Tuesday. He did show a tendency to jump left in both of those races, suggesting he may be suited going that direction which he gets at Cheltenham. He’s had one more start, running well when a good second to Sego Success in a Listed novice at Warwick, jumping well for the most part, though possibly making too much use of himself too soon (did have some smart, higher rated horses well held in behind). A rating of 137 is certainly manageable based on his hurdles form, and it could underestimate him somewhat on his first start in a handicap over fences. 20/1 looks big, and I’d think he’d go off nearer 12/1 on the day. One to keep onside.
Stake: 4 points win
They’re the four that stand out at the moment, happy punting.