Adam Baylis of betting.betfair provides a selection of National Hunt star horses to follow for the rest of the season and gives the latest odds for their potential Cheltenham Festival targets...
"Sidelined through injury for the second half of last season, might it be that that Thistlecrack finally claims Gold Cup glory in 2018; he’s 6/1 joint-favourite to do so."
Nicky Henderson's RSA winner made the perfect start to this season at Sandown, putting eight lengths between himself and the runner-up. Nico De Boinville took two looks behind him on the run-in and made a point of organising the son of Scorpion, perhaps to arrest his tendency to hang at the end of his races. All roads now point to the King George VI for which he's 5/2 favourite and he should take all the beating on Boxing Day. Beyond that, he's currently 8/1 for the Gold Cup but I do think he's better suited to flatter tracks and would want to see something pretty special before getting involved at Cheltenham.
Might Bite was impressive on his seasonal return and puts his three rivals to the sword pic.twitter.com/WgKipjcQ8V? Sandown Park (@Sandownpark) November 12, 2017
Nicky Henderson has reported that Champion Hurdle victor Buveur D'Air is very much on course for the Fighting Fifth next week. It'll take something special to beat him there but 9/2 for back-to-back victories in March looks on the skinny side. Faugheen confirmed last weekend that he indeed still very much a machine and while Melon's seasonal re-appearance left a bit to be desired there looks to be a lot more to come from him. In addition there could well be something to come out of the pack at a bigger price in what - beyond Faugheen - is a decidedly open Champion Hurdle market.
Sidelined through injury for the second half of last season, might it be that that Thistlecrack finally claims Gold Cup glory in 2018; he's 6/1 joint-favourite to do so. However he'll first defend his King George VI crown for which he's 4/1 and while it may seem at the mercy of 'new kid on the block' Might Bite, the fact that Colin Tizzard's gelding has been there and done it is obviously worth its weight in gold. He lost little in defeat to superstar Many Clouds prior to his setback and I expect him to fulfill all the promise he showed over fences last year.
Jessica Harrington could do no wrong last year and Sizing John was very much her pièce de résistance. The Cheltenham and Punchestown Gold Cup winner looks set to make his reappearance in the Betfair Chase for which he's currently 3/1. He's then 5/1 for the King George VI and 6/1 co-fav to be the first horse since Best Mate to win back-to-back renewals of the Cheltenham showpiece. While he was impressive in victory at Prestbury Park, he was all out to get his head in front at Punchestown and I do wonder how he'll cope with a healthy Thistlecrack come the spring.
Coral Gold Cup - Watch the closing stages of the Punchestown Gold Cup as Sizing John got the better of Djakadam in a cracking renewal pic.twitter.com/L0HqtydIFZ? RTÉ Racing (@RTEracing) April 26, 2017
Defi Du Seuil
Unbeaten on these shores, the son of Voix Du Nord has so far carried all before him and his five length demolition of Mega Fortune in last year's Triumph was arguably one of the performances of the festival. He was less impressive at Aintree but had been on the go since October and he does seem a better horse on winter ground. Trainer Phillip Hobbs has reported him on target for the Coral Hurdle this weekend for which he's 5/6 favourite. Looking ahead to the rest of the season, he's 9/1 for the Champion Hurdle which seems the obvious path if he's to swerve fences and would give owner J P McManus quite the hand in the race together with Buveur D'Air.
Attempting to decode how a Willie Mullins trained horse will be campaigned is a nigh on impossible task so we'll focus on what we do know about the dual Cheltenham Festival winner. Some will say that Nicky Henderson's Top Notch would've got the better of him in last season's JLT were it not for a vintage Ruby Walsh ride. While there's no doubt Ruby helped the horse along greatly and his jumping is somewhat erratic at times, he was always on top that day. Furthermore he had Disko back in third who has since won a Grade 2 on his re-appearance and Politologue in fourth who was ultra-impressive when winning the Haldon Gold Cup last week. In terms of prices, he's joint 6/1 favourite for the Gold Cup, 10/1 for the Champion Chase and 20/1 for the Champion Hurdle.
Gordon Elliott has an abundance of ammunition at his disposal this season but none more exciting than the unbeaten Samcro. His maiden hurdle performance - winning by 15 lengths - was electric and the second has already come out and won since then. His next appearance is slated to be in the Monksfield Novice Hurdle at Navan before likely heading to the Ballymore at the Festival for which he's currently 9/2 favourite. He showed a really good turn of foot in that maiden win however so perhaps the Supreme could still be an option, he's 16/1 for the Cheltenham curtain raiser.
It took 13 races on these shores for Douvan to succumb to defeat - on the grandest stage of them all - in last season's Queen Mother and as such is on a mission to re-build his reputation this year. At his peak he's one of, if not, the best horse in training and stable reports have been positive on his recovery after Cheltenham. Willie Mullins stated "He has entries in the Hilly Way, John Durkan and Tingle Creek. I would say that the Tingle Creek looks like the one at the moment". He's 3/1 for victory at Sandown and 11/4 to make amends in the Champion Chase in March.
Douvan (174) - thanks to this performance, last season's highest-rated jumps horse according to the Anglo-Irish Jump Classifications... pic.twitter.com/ifqLIqP0OP? At The Races (@AtTheRaces) May 24, 2017
After already claiming victory twice in good style, Finian's Oscar has shown that chasing really is his game. He was one of the best novice hurdlers around last year and were it not for a heart-breaking late run by Barcardys at Punchestown would still be unbeaten. Timeform commented that "both his background between the flags and physique point towards him taking high rank amongst the novice chasers this season". He's currently 6/1 favourite for the JLT but there has been much talk that Colin Tizzard's preferred route would see him end up in the Arkle for which he's 9/1.
Finian's Oscar may not have been foot perfect but he's a novice and will only improve.? Stu 'Jimbo' Williams (@Jimbo_JumpsMan) November 19, 2017
He beat a very promising horse conceding 8lbs. Onwards and upwards. pic.twitter.com/dOoOqw6juJ