With just over three weeks until Cheltenham, Tony Calvin turns his attention to the Stayers' Hurdle where a certain double-Festival winner has caught his eye at double figure odds...
"It is not often that you can back a dual Festival winner at double-figure odds in a race that looks seriously lacking in proven Grade 1 contenders."
Now a Paisley believer - but too short to back
There were ante-post market-movers galore last weekend but the future is where the money is - it better be, anyway - and I have been meaning to get around to studying the most static of Cheltenham markets ever since Paisley Park ran away with the Cleeve Hurdle.
That would be the Stayers' Hurdle by the way.
I was firmly in the non-believer camp before Paisley Park's Cheltenham romp, as the form of his previous Long Walk victory looked bang-average for a Grade 1 race.
Indeed, a two-length defeat of the 148-rated West Approach off levels should have scared no-one.
But Paisley Park was clearly something of a revelation in the Cleeve Hurdle last time, when giving the same rival 6lb and a 12-length thumping, and I have heard plenty of pundits who think that he is still too big a price at the current [3.25] on the Exchange.
Certainly, the figure he ran to at Cheltenham makes him the obvious favourite, given his age and hugely progressive profile - his official rating is now a lofty 168 - and I personally wouldn't read anything into his blow-out in last year's Albert Bartlett at the Festival. He was a 33/1 chance wearing a first-time visor there.
The question is whether he is indeed a backable price at around 9/4, and every fibre of my punting being is screaming "no, no, no". At this moment in time, anyway.
Leaving aside the touchy subject of the horse not hailing from a top-flight stable well versed in producing Festival winners - I will get some abuse for pointing that out, no doubt, but I can guarantee it is factored into his current price - I am simply of the opinion that if you do fancy him then he is the sort of horse bookmakers will look to get on the day, so you may as well wait for the evening of March 13 before unloading.
Of course, I could be proved totally wrong if last year's winner Penhill and Samcro, the next two in the betting, fall by the wayside in the next four weeks, but that's the chance you take. And, of course, a setback could befall the favourite, too.
Another argument for the waiting stakes is Paisley Park's run-style.
Now, I am fully aware that once a betting angle is exposed, then it quickly becomes redundant, but this is a horse that tends to trade well above his starting price in-running - though he has traded at evens or less three times and been beaten in his career - and this was most obvious at Haydock, where he hit [130.0].
In fact, I was surprised that he only went out to [9.2] in the Cleeve Hurdle, as he wasn't travelling too kindly before picking up in superb fashion in the straight; in fact, he looked pretty awkward on a couple of occasions in the race.
Look, I am not going to sit here and dismiss his claims for any other reason than his price, but the race surely has a better betting alternative lurking somewhere.
The market suggests that is Penhill at [7.4], and he did us a favour when beating Supasundae in the race last year, having sluiced up in the Albert Bartlett the year before. We haven't seen him since Punchestown in April.
The silence around him has been pretty deafening of late, but perhaps we will get an update on him later in the week, as I believe Willie Mullins has a Cheltenham media day coming up.
But backing him at around 6/1 now does seem a questionable play.
The same is certainly true of last year's Ballymore winner Samcro (pictured, with Gordon Elliott), who many thought was destined for the stars and beyond after beating Black Op (who shaped okay on his return to hurdles in the Cleeve, despite eventually being beaten 14 lengths) in the Ballymore.
He was found to have a lung infection after blowing out in the Ryanair Hurdle in December, after which it looked like connections were drawing stumps for the season.
But he is back "working away" now and, if he goes to Cheltenham, then it seems it is the Stayers' or nothing. Not for me, though.
I suppose a possible each-way play in the race is last year's runner-up Supasundae, but his connections have stated that the Champion Hurdle is the plan given suitable give on the opening day (and it will surely be good to soft at a minimum on the Tuesday) and you would want a NRNB concession before backing him.
Under the radar
Outside of him though - and I can see Black Op getting a lot closer to the favourite - and you are really struggling for credible contenders, with the exception of Faugheen, and perhaps his stablemate/ownermate Bapaume.
Bapaume shaped very well behind the elusive Presenting Percy in the Galmoy Hurdle but there is a real sense that Faugheen is the horse that has gone under the radar in a race which clearly lacks any strength in depth.
Most of the 2015 Champion Hurdler's racing has been over 2m, but it surprised me just how impressive his record is when racing over further than the minimum trip. Indeed, his form figures read 111111F (and I've ignored his point win), and that ain't too shoddy.
Indeed, the only blemish on his dance card beyond 2m was when he fell in the Christmas Hurdle won by a certain Apple's Jade last time.
Who knows what would have happened at Leopardstown last time had he not fallen, but he was clearly still in there pitching at the very least, and we all saw what the mare did to Supasundae in the Irish Champion Hurdle next time.
And while many feel he was gifted a very easy lead in the Stayers' Hurdle at Punchestown last April - and, let's face it, he was - the fact remains that he beat Penhill by 13 lengths.
It is not often that you can back a dual Festival winner at double-figure odds in a race that looks seriously lacking in proven Grade 1 contenders. And let's not forget that he is rated 1lb superior to Paisley Park too, so he is officially the form horse going into the Stayers' Hurdle, for all that he is 11-years-old now (the stats boys won't have him, I know, and of course that is a factor) and the favourite is a sprightly seven.
The Stayers' is the target, by all accounts, so the question is how do we get with him. Do we back him at [13.0] or bigger on the Exchange - he is currently [14.0] to back, in fact - or at 10/1 each-way on the Betfair Sportsbook?
Either route looks a fair call, but I will suggest you look to back him at 10/1 each-way. If he gets there in one piece, then he could prove very hard to kick out of the frame at the least.