Will Hoffman AKA @StopwatchRacing returns with a review of the Cheltenham Festival and a trio of selections for next year...
"The single best clock performance of the week came in the race won by Presenting Percy. Like Footpad in the Arkle, he was somewhat flattered by receiving a pace-efficient ride by Davy Russell, but that only slightly takes the gloss off what was an exceptional sectional performance."
Nearly a week on, the Cheltenham afterglow has finally dimmed and I've spent the last day or so looking, more rationally and objectively (I hope), at this year's festival with one eye on the ante post markets for next year. With that in mind, I'm going to take a look at the markets currently open for Cheltenham 2019 on the Betfair Sportsbook, as well as picking out a few eyecatchers to keep an eye on.
Blackbow can progress from Bumper
The Supreme Novices' Hurdle is a tricky, if not completely impossible, race to take a strong view on a year out, given the number of imponderables.
That said, this year's national hunt flat horses look a particularly strong bunch, reaching a crescendo with an excellent Champion Bumper at Cheltenham. Blackbow brought the strongest form to the race going in and, whilst he was ultimately well-held, he travelled exceptionally well through the race (arguably too well) and was still pulling double turning for home.
He looked like an out-and-out two-miler, and I'd be very surprised if this wasn't the route they went down. The Mullins yard usually have a couple of trump-cards to play in the form of unraced types for novice hurdles, but it'll take a particularly good one to knock this bunch of NHF horses off their perch, and I'd surprised if he didn't end up the number one Mullins horse for this division next year. As such, 25/1 looks big and worth taking.
Buveur D'Air Champion hat-trick unlikely
The Champion Hurdle market is interesting: Buveur D'Air is the obvious, and deserved, favourite but is going to be susceptible to something truly top class.
Samcro put in the best single hurdling performance of the entire festival week, but knowing the Gigginstown modus operandi, you'd think he'd be 80% likely to end up over the larger obstacles.
Summerville Boy looks worth a small investment at current prices. He put up an excellent clock performance at the festival and has to upgraded for that, given the mistakes he made at 2f-out and the last. The vibes from the Tom George yard are that he'll remain over hurdles and, with that in mind, 12/1 looks overpriced. You can expect improvement for another summer on his back and I think there's every chance he ends up favourite for this race a year down the line.
Summerville Boy gets up close home to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle @CheltenhamRaces and gains his second Grade One success. #TheFestival— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) March 13, 2018
New Betfair customers get up to £100 in free bets: https://t.co/M5sVHe3vhU (T&Cs apply) pic.twitter.com/aIhmeiLHWb
Footpad may go for Gold
Footpad's performance in the Arkle, both visually and on the clock, escaped nobody last week. Instinctively, 7/1 for the 2019 Champion Chase looks big, but when you drill into it, it's not really a betting proposition.
Altior was brilliant and, whilst the way he shaped suggested that he may be even better over further, there's little chance that he ends up in the Gold Cup, and you'd be all but certain that this remains his long-term target.
The Mullins yard has Min and Douvan, who are both 2-milers, and the owners of Footpad have Sceau Royal who is of a similar mould. Willie Mullins has suggested that he views Footpad as a Gold Cup horse, and whilst I don't necessarily agree, you would be brave to bet against the trainer getting his way. I can leave this market alone.
Percy the stand-out candidate
The single best clock performance of the week came in the race won by Presenting Percy. Like Footpad in the Arkle, he was somewhat flattered by receiving a pace-efficient ride by Davy Russell, but that only slightly takes the gloss off what was an exceptional sectional performance.
Pat Kelly is a target trainer and there will only be one target in mind for Percy: the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He stays the trip, travels, jumps and is versatile as to the ground. In essence, he's bomb-proof and could well end up turning up here teetering around the even money mark on the day. He's currently 6/1 which strikes me as backable, even with the vagaries involved with backing a horse this far out.
Presenting Percy is now a general 8-1 chance for the 2019 Gold Cup @CheltenhamRaces after an impressive win in the RSA Chase. Do you see him as a leading contender? #TheFestival pic.twitter.com/UAi1YEj1Yp— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) March 14, 2018
Monalee isn't quoted in the market for the Ryanair Chase but has to be upgraded for what was a very good second in the RSA: he was keen, in the vanguard and on ground which was less than ideal. He may well not end up getting the Gold Cup trip and, if you can get a price about him for the intermediate test, I would grab it as he's a top-class horse himself.
Don't give up on Sam Spinner
There are a handful of other horses who I'd flag, not necessarily with a look towards antepost markets for next year, but as animals to follow more generally.
Western Ryder, who finished sixth in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, was in the process of running a massive race, and could well have ended up grabbing a place had he not received a bad piece of interference 2f-out.
I'd flagged him up as being overpriced prior to the race on Betfair's Live Blog, so it was both disappointing and encouraging to see him run the race he did. That was a personal best, and there's clearly going to be more to come from him, whatever route he goes down. One for the notebook.
Sam Spinner isn't exactly a dark-horse, but he could end up turning into one on the back of a disappointing run in the Stayers Hurdle. He, at first glance, got an ideal run through the race, getting an uncontested lead and setting steady fractions.
It's hard to be critical of Joe Colliver, as a result, but the race was crammed full of horses with two-mile pace, and the result was that he ended up being badly outpaced when push came to shove. His previous best performances came in races where he set strong fractions, and made the race a test and, had he done similar here, he would probably have ended up placing at a minimum. I don't know what route he's going to go down but he's worth following wherever he ends up - he's an animal of huge ability.
2017 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle winner Penhill, who was having his first start for 323 days, eventually outstayed 2017 Coral Cup winner to win the Stayers' Hurdle @CheltenhamRaces. #TheFestival pic.twitter.com/83SQRraauj— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) March 15, 2018
Early Doors one for Galway?
Two others: Early Doors shaped like the best horse in the Martin Pipe, jumping and travelling better than anything, but ultimately finding the intermediate trip on soft ground to be too much of a test.
Over two miles, he would have had at least half a stone in hand of the handicapper and is worth backing if he ends up in a big handicap hurdle (i.e the Galway Hurdle).
Next Destination ran close to a personal best in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle, lacking the tactical speed to get involved when the pace quickened, but finishing with a real flourish up the hill (in a faster time than either Samcro or Black Op). He's going to end up a three miler, whether over fences or hurdles, and could very well end up being top-class at that distance.