Tony Calvin: Small bet at big odds in the Irish Champion Hurdle

Petit Mouchoir at Leopardstown
Petit Mouchoir (maroon silks jockey) is trained by Betfair Ambassador Gordon Elliott

Tony Calvin can't resist an ante-post bet on Gordon Elliott's outsider in the big race at Leopardstown on Saturday afternoon...

"I am backing him at 20/1 and bigger, though I am not going mad by any means. That is the price on offer on the Sportsbook and on the Exchange he currently trades at 24.023/1. Go where you wish to punt him."

I was going to leave Leopardstown until the weekend when the final fields are known, but I was at a loose end on Wednesday afternoon, so I thought I would have an early butchers.

The first thing to say about what promises to be a brilliant two-day meeting is that, surprise surprise as the late-lamented Cilla Black may have said on ITV once or twice, it promises to be bottomless.

I was working on the basis of heavy anyway, but then I clocked the weekend forecast - one site says the course is due another 7mm on Saturday and 11mm on Sunday - and then subconsciously filed it under "approaching un-raceable".

That is probably well wide of the mark admittedly, but it serves an editorial purpose.

Cheltenham contenders put off by conditions?

There is not a cat in hell's chance that the meeting will be called off even if they get double the rain that is forecast - these two days are (arguably) the most important in Ireland NH's calendar - but I wonder if we may get some high-profile defections if it does lash down any further.

Also, how hard a race will the trainers be willing to give their stars, with a view to Cheltenham in around six weeks, has to be factored in, and maybe those with double-entries will be inclined to run them over the shorter trip of the two given the conditions, whatever the formbook says is their optimum distance.

So plenty of things for ante-post punters to weigh up, not least because of the fact that the Betfair Sportsbook have priced up all 15 races. There are three trading on the Exchange too.

Let's be honest, some of the Grade 1 contests are a little underwhelming, numbers-wise.

There are only five in the Irish Gold Cup, six in the Irish Champion Hurdle, and seven in the Dublin Chase, while I don't expect the likes of the other Grade 1 races like the Spring Juvenile Hurdle and the Flogas will attract enough runners on the day to get the each-way punters unloading

This isn't going to be one of my usual (overly-long) missives then, as I am going to focus of just one horse.

Petit Mouchoir is no 20/1 chance

The race I homed in on was actually the six-runner Irish Champion Hurdle, which surprised me as contests with so few entries normally wash straight over me.

The horse of note among the sextet is Petit Mouchoir and the question is do I pull the trigger on him at 20/1 on the Sportsbook and bigger still (he currently trades at 24.0] on the Exchange?

The fact that he is the old man of the party as a 10-year-old doesn't particularly bother me but in the final analysis my main worry about him was the ground, for all he finished a close third in a heavy-ground Grade 1 novice at this meeting in 2015.

But, heavy going aside, he is no 20/1 chance from where I am viewing. So I am still deciding whether to load up as I write that sentence.

Hopefully, I will convince myself in the following paragraphs.

Firstly - and I know we are not meant to say these things now that March is not the be-all-and-end-all, apparently - you suspect that this race is his Cheltenham, which perhaps isn't the case for the other five in the contest.

I hope he bloody runs now after saying that!

The facts of the matter are that he has only 7lb to find with Sharjah (though 8lb with the mare Honeysuckle, but more about her later) on official figures, and little if anything with the rest - and that is without factoring in the Gordon Elliott and the tactics angle.

That is bridgeable here, I feel.

Yes, I know that he hardly joined Big Gordie from a complete mug after being bought from Gigginstown for £70,000 in September, and former handlers Henry De Bromhead and Willie Mullins had steered him to some Grade 1-winning days (well, Mullins had to settle for three places in that company, actually).

His high-level successes for De Bromhead came in the 2016 Ryanair Hurdle by seven lengths in 2016 and this very race a month later, while other notable performances at the top table included a third in a Champion Hurdle and a length third to Honeysuckle here last season.

Gordon Elliott in yard looks to side 1280.jpg

The 2m hurdling pedigree is there then and he certainly suggested plenty of the fire is still burning when a five-length third to Sharjah on his stable debut here last month.

He wasn't drilled there by any means on his first start since Galway in late July, coming back strongly at the line after losing his place rounding the final bend, and this looks an ideal opportunity - given the run-style of the opposition - for them to resume front-running tactics with the horse.

A solo awaits.

Elliott runner can get at opponents

All his best career performances have come from the front, including when winning this in 2017, and I just think he could get at these if he goes hard and early.

Noel and Valerie Moran could have a rare £70,000 bargain on their hands, while I have just noticed Elliott trained this horse to win his bumper in 2015 before he went to Mullins.

Old scores, and all that.

I certainly want to be against the unbeaten Honeysuckle at 5/4 with the Sportsbook - so do the Exchange layers who are currently offering 6/4+ - as this is her stiffest task yet over 2m, for all she won this race last season and her stamina will come into play on the ground.

I prefer Sharjah of the pair at the top of the market, but last year's Champion Hurdle runner-up is not bullet-proof by any means, as we saw when beaten 11 lengths by Honeysuckle in this last season.

In fact, the vibes around his stable and owner-mate Saldier are equally as strong, you sense - if reading between the lines - and he is expected to have come on a ton for his reappearance behind Sharjah in the Matheson, his first outing since beating Petit Mouchoir one-and-a-half lengths in the 2019 Morgiana.

But I'd rather play 20s Petit Mouchoir than him at half the price.

The other pair in the race, Saint Roi and Abacadabras, lock horns for the third time this season but neither truly convince me for the time being. I know the latter came back wrong (dirty scope) last time and has to be feared on his Supreme second, as does Saint Roi on his County win, but both have plenty to prove at this level for now.

So does Petit Mouchoir, but again we come back to the prices on offer.

I am backing him at 20/1 and bigger, though I am not going mad by any means. That is the price on offer on the Sportsbook and the Exchange, where he currently trades at 24.023/1 for small sums. Go where you wish to punt him.

I really do want to see him sent on from flag fall (or tape drop) though, as the tactics and pace angle could be key here.

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