The Road to Cheltenham: Cue Card a Gold Cup mover as he sets up shot at £1m

Cue Card reeled in Vautour by a neck and went single figures for Gold Cup glory
Cue Card reeled in Vautour by a neck and went single figures for Gold Cup glory

At the half way stage of the National Hunt season we discuss the key Cheltenham antepost market movers from the festive period in the seventh edition of the Road To Cheltenham...

"The Gold Cup market reacted instantly with Cue Card backed in from 13.012/1 in to 7.26/1 and Don Cossack slightly drifting from 5.79/2 out to 7.613/2."

Without doubt the highlight of the hugely popular two-day Kempton card was the much-anticipated annual King George VI Chase which on paper looked to be one of the most competitive showdowns in many a year.

The general consensus was that Don Cossack would set the standard and get the job done ahead of a classy but untested Vautour, who had never travelled the three mile distance before, and Betfair Chase winner Cue Card who was looking to finally land this contest at the fourth time of asking and with it continue his quest for the coveted JCR Million Triple Crown.

It also seemed unwise to rule out the ever present Silviniaco Conti who had won the last two King Georges and always seemed to perform to his maximum here. The race itself would live up to its billing and more as we witnessed one of the most exciting King Georges in recent times, culminating in a photo finish between Vautour and Cue Card with the latter just taking it by a head.

Vautour ran well from out front and didn't seem troubled staying the distance, while Don Cossack seemed scruffy throughout but somehow battled his way into slight contention. Gordon Elliott's chaser briefly looked like he could pull it off before falling two from home leaving fans' favourite Cue Card, who had steadily made his way through the field, to run down Vautour at the finish and finally claim a King George.

The Gold Cup market reacted instantly with Cue Card backed in from 13.012/1 in to 7.26/1 and Don Cossack slightly drifting from 5.79/2 out to 7.613/2. Meanwhile, Vautour was backed for the Ryanair Chase on the back of this defeat and is available in that market now at 2.789/5 from 3.8514/5, but drifted in the Gold Cup betting. With doubts about staying the distance still lingering it seems, Vautour has gone from 7.613/2 out to 12.5. Interestingly, he was also backed for the Champion Chase, moving from 14.5 in to 8.07/1.

Faugheen odds-on for Champion Hurdle

The other headline race on the card was the Grade One Christmas Hurdle where all eyes were on Champion Hurdle winner and odds-on favourite Faugheen. After suffering a career first defeat at the hands of Nichols Canyon in November he was setting out to prove he was still firmly the horse to beat for March's Champion Hurdle. Willie Mullins' prized asset did just that as he made all the running before quickening two out to beat The New One into second place by seven lengths. As a result he cemented his place as clear favourite in the Champion Hurdle market, from 2.35/4 in to 1.9520/21.

Elsewhere on the card there was a very notable performance from Altior who romped away to claim the 12:50 Novice Hurdle for Nicky Henderson. He was prominent throughout before leading two out and then kicking on further to win by a very impressive 13 lengths from the well-fancied Open Eagle. This five-year-old looks like one to watch closely and his price has shortened in the Supreme Novices Hurdle as a result from 18.017/1 to 10.519/2. Tea For Two was also on show and ran well to take the Grade One Kauto Star Novices Chase in good fashion beating Southfield Royale and Native River in the process. He is now available at 15.014/1 in the JLT Novices Chase.

Arkle favourite Douvan nears even money for Festival win

Over in Ireland, Douvan never looked in any danger when landing the Grade One Racing Post Novice Chase from Leopardstown at a canter for Mullins. It had looked like it would be a tight affair with Ttebbob coming in with good form but he made too many mistakes before being pulled up whilst Sizing John found nothing and was beaten by 18 lengths eventually. Douvan's price in the Arkle Novices Chase has now hardened in to 2.0621/20 from 2.588/5. Sizing John on the other hand has drifted out to 23.022/1 in the Arkle but is available at 13.5 in the JLT and Ttebbob is out to 34.033/1 from 17.016/1 in the Arkle market.

Sunday saw another card full of top-class racing at Kempton. The duel between odds-on Vaniteux and Grade One winner Ar Mad in the Grade Two Wayward Lad Novices Chase was one to look forward to, and in a neck-and-neck race it was Ar Mad who got the better of things staying on right to the finish to just edge it by a neck.

Consequently, Vaniteux has shot out to 13.5 from 9.08/1 in the Arkle market and is now at 50.049/1 for the JLT. Ar Mad on the other hand can now be found at 13.5 for the Arkle.

Sire de Grugy a Champion Chase positive despite defeat

Arguably the bigger race on the card was the Grade Two Desert Orchid Chase where we would finally see a resurgent Sprinter Sacre face off with fellow Champion Chase and Tingle Creek winner Sire De Grugy.

The race itself was a classic, swinging one way and another before much-loved Sprinter Sacre, who had looked beaten approaching the last, dug deep to come back and win by three-quarters-of-a-length from his rival to carry on his fairy tale comeback quest for Champion Chase glory. Despite winning it wasn't the most convincing of runs and punters seem to agree as he has actually drifted in the Champion Chase market moving a couple of ticks from 4.84/1 out to 5.24/1. Despite his defeat, Sire De Grugy has shortened up from 14.5 in to 9.28/1 .

Meanwhile, Leopardstown hosted another impressive looking card. Un De Sceaux was the big draw in the Grade One Paddy Power 'So Quick So Easy' Chase. This looked to be just a procession for the Willie Mullins star and he looked in control before making a mistake and falling two out in a big shock. Flemenstar would eventually hold off Simply Ned for victory.

As a result Un De Sceaux has edged out form 2.546/4 to 2.747/4 for the Champion Chase. Following on from that was the Grade One Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle where Long Dog fought off the well-fancied Tombstone to give Willie Mullins yet another win. Long Dog is now 13.5 from 16.5 for the Neptune Novices Hurdle and 18.017/1 for the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Tombstone has stayed solid at 13.012/1 in the Neptune and 14.5 for the Supreme.

Notable Market Moves

Cue Card in to 7.26/1 from 13.012/1 for the Gold Cup
Don Cossack out to 7.613/2 from 5.79/2 for the Gold Cup
Vautour out to 12.5 from 7.613/2 for the Gold Cup

Vautour in to 2.789/5 from 3.8514/5 for the Ryanair Chase
Vautour in to 8.07/1 from 14.5 for the Champion Chase
Faugheen in to 1.9520/21 from 2.35/4 for the Champion Hurdle
Altior in to 10.519/2 from 18.017/1 for the Supreme Novices Hurdle
Douvan in to 2.0621/20 from 2.588/5 for the Arkle Novices Chase
Ttebbob out to 34.033/1 from 17.016/1 for the Arkle Novices Chase
Vaniteux out to 13.5 from 9.08/1 for the Arkle Novices Chase

Sprinter Sacre out to 5.24/1 from 4.84/1 for the Champion Chase
Sire De Grugy in to 9.28/1 from 14.5 for the Champion Chase
Un De Sceaux out to 2.747/4 from 2.546/4 for the Champion Chase

Long Dog in to 13.5 from 16.5 for the Neptune Novices Hurdle

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