A feast of racing took place over the Christmas period and inevitably the markets for the Cheltenham Festival were influenced by some outstanding performances, as outlined here by the Follow The Money team...
"Native River has been shortened from [12.0] to [9.4] with plenty of money available on both the back and lay sides, and is now firmly established as the Gold Cup second favourite."
The obvious place to start is with the King George and Thistlecrack, who confirmed that he is every bit as a good a chaser as he was a hurdler, with a breath-taking victory at Kempton from stable companion Cue Card.
Having been as short as [4.2] for the Gold Cup in the build up to the King George, he is now rated a [2.26] chance on the exchange. The ripples from his performance were felt across the Festival markets, as Cue Card was pushed out from [6.0] to [19.5], and also shortened in the Ryanair betting from [7.0] to a current [5.7].
The Gold Cup betting was also impacted by events at Leopardstown, as Outlander won a thrilling renewal of the Lexus Chase. Having been any price you like until not so long ago, he now trades at [23.0], having confirmed himself a genuine Grade 1 performer over three miles. His defeat of a rejuvenated Don Poli, [60.0], also came at the expense of dual Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam, who has been pushed out to [18.0] from [11.0] having seemingly had his limitations confirmed once and for all.
Valseur Lido travelled like the best horse in the race for much of the trip at Leopardstown, but ultimately faded into fourth, and as such his Gold Cup odds have risen dramatically from a very solid [14.0] to a current [50.0]. This is reflective of the fact he now seems more likely to be aimed at the Ryanair over the shorter trip at the Festival instead, for which he is priced up at [11.0] at the time of writing.
Meanwhile at Chepstow, Native River - yet another contender from the all-conquering Colin Tizzard yard - confirmed himself to be a staying chaser out of the top drawer by winning the Welsh National in spectacular fashion, to follow up his Hennessy win earlier in the season. He has been shortened from [12.0] to [9.4] with plenty of money available on both the back and lay sides, and is now firmly established as the Gold Cup second favourite.
The Arkle market was also subject to moves instigated by events at Kempton and Leopardstown, with both Altior and Min passing their latest jumping examinations with flying colours.
Interestingly Altior has actually drifted rom [2.3] out to a current [2.44], though this is in truth nothing to do with his own efforts as he produced an electric performance to win the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices' Chase over Christmas. Rather, the drift is simply as a consequence of the brilliance of Min in dismissing his rivals in the Grade I Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown. He has moved from [6.2] into [4.3] and the pair continue to dominate the market.
Perhaps the Festival market most in flux over the Festive period has been the Triumph Hurdle, which has seen all sorts of movements.
Defi Du Seuil had shown a liking for Cheltenham in two starts prior to stepping into Grade 1 company in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. He ultimately proved a most impressive winner despite some indifferent jumping, and saw his odds shorten from [8.6] to a current [7.2] market leader.
Previously the betting had been dominated by Irish trained juveniles, though a few reputations have been dented over the Christmas period, most notably of runners hailing from the Joseph O'Brien yard. Sword Fighter and Housesofparliament, who were both really smart flat performers, made their debuts over hurdles in a three-year-old maiden at Leopardstown on the 27th, and despite showing a bit of promise, neither could win. The latter has moved from [17.0] to [27.0], while the first named is now a [46.0] shot having been half that price prior to his defeat.
A more notable drifter from the same yard has been Landofhopeandglory, the long time favourite for the Triumph in the early stages of the season. He won his first three starts over timber and was as low as [6.0] at one point, but his colours were lowered by Bapaume in the Grade 2 Juvenile Hurdle on Boxing Day. He is now a [16.5] chance while his conqueror has moved the other way from [15.0] into a current price of [11.0].
Other horses to emerge as contenders include Bapaume's stable companion Meri Devie, a filly with some useful flat form to her name in France, who made a winning hurdles debut at Leopardstown to move into [12.0] and also the Nicky Henderson-trained Charli Parcs, who now trades at just [8.8] having been double the odds pre- Christmas. He won very impressively at Kempton on his first start since moving from France.
To stick with the hurdlers, a major mover for the Champion Hurdle has been Yanworth, after he ground out a noteworthy Grade 1 victory in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
It was his first start in open company over two miles, and although he only got on top close home and looks ideally in need of further, it was a still a victory that confirmed him the leading home trained Champion Hurdle contender. Having been trading at around [9.0] before his win, he has now taken second favouritism from Annie Power and is a [5.7] shot. The reigning Champion continues to display weakness in the market and is out to [7.6].
Yanworth wasn't the only horse to stake his claim for the big one at Cheltenham in recent days, as Petit Mouchoir announced himself as a serious contender with a Grade 1 victory at Leopardstown.
He had fallen on his previous start at Newcastle, and appeared up against it with Champion Hurdle third Nichols Canyon a hot favourite. However, Petit Mouchoir showed improved form to slam Nichols Canyon by seven lengths, and in doing so saw his odds shorten from [22.0] to [10.5], while the vanquished Nichols Canyon has gone from around [20.0] all the way out to [60.0].
Perhaps as a consequence of this, Nichols Canyon has also seen a little bit of support for the Stayers Hurdle, dropping from [13.5] into [10.5].
Despite the Nichols Canyon setback, the Willie Mullins yard has enjoyed a tremendous Christmas period, saddling an astonishing number of winners during the last week of December. Plenty of his youngsters have been winning and therefore attracting bits of support for the Festival, while Douvan [1.51] further tightened his grip on the Champion Chase market with another facile victory.
A strong Mullins mover has been Bellshill, who won a Grade 2 Novice Chase at Limerick and has shortened from [8.4] into [6.6] for the RSA Novices' Chase.
Other interesting contenders have emerged for the same race over the past week from other stables. One such is Jessie Harrington's Our Duke, who has shortened to [11.5] from over [20.0] after a Grade 1 victory from Coney Island, who has himself gone the other way out to [17.5].
The most striking market move in the RSA, however, has undoubtedly been for Might Bite, who fell when a Grade 1 victory was at his mercy at Kempton over Christmas. Despite the mishap he has proven himself to be a leading contender for the Festival and his price has crashed from [55.0] to just [12.5].
Cheltenham Festival Movers
Thistlecrack [4.2] into [2.3] in the Gold Cup
Cue Card [6.0] out to [19.5] in the Gold Cup
Might Bite [55.0] into [12.5] in the RSA Novices' Chase
Yanworth [9.0] into [5.7] in the Champion Hurdle
Min [6.2] into [4.3] in the Arkle