Irish horses swept the board on day three of the Festival last year but Tony Keenan thinks the home team might have the edge this time...
"The main bet is Bigmartre. In a weak renewal, strong handicap form may be good enough and his jumping has been some of the best from a novice this season."
I've backed more than a few 'wise guy' horses at Cheltenham in a bid to appear smarter than I am but in general the apparent clever selection can be overbet in the face of more obvious form horses. It looks great when it comes off - the rewards come not only in euros or pounds but in kudos - but more often than not it doesn't end well.
Festivals past are littered with such horses but aftertiming those is bad betting etiquette and it might be braver (or more foolhardy!) to attempt to find this year's 'wise guy' horses. For reasons outlined in Tuesday's preview, De Plotting Shed looks a prime example while on this Thursday card both Balko Des Flos and Yanworth fit the bill.
JLT Novice Chase
This appears the weakest of the three Grade 1 novice chases by some distance and looking at the likely runners one can make a case that everything is overpriced at present. Invitation Only is the right favourite but hardly unbeatable; a free-going sort, he will be suited by the slight drop in trip from last time but there were no obvious excuses for his defeat then. A relative late addition to the field, Terrefort could go off a lot shorter, perhaps even challenging for favouritism at the off. His Scilly Isles win came in a decent time and he won't lack for experience.
He is worth a small play but the main bet is Bigmartre. In a weak renewal, strong handicap form may be good enough and his jumping has been some of the best from a novice this season. The collateral form with Cyrname suggests he has the edge on Terrefort and while the big prices about him have dried up there is still juice in his current odds.
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle
This is the only Thursday handicap I've gotten deep into but there were three at bigger prices that could be worth keeping on side on the day. Dadsintrouble is top of the list from the same mark he was third off at Aintree last spring, a race that worked out well. The 'failed chaser' angle has proved profitable in this race and he shaped better than the result when fifth at Exeter last time, in front plenty soon off a strong gallop having traded at [1.5] in-running.
Calett Mad is another that reverts from chasing and is rated 13lbs lower in this sphere. A course winner, he won second time off a breathing operation at Musselburgh in a good time and looks feasibly handicapped though he does have the option of the Albert Bartlett. Sykes hardly has too many secrets from the handicapper at this point but is much-improved for a stable switch and could be one to hit the frame at a big price.
Having looked like being really competitive a fortnight or so back, the Ryanair could cut up into a small field like last year which would suit Un De Sceaux as may face less pressure for the lead. Like the JLT, the percentages about the likely runners don't really add up especially if Waiting Patiently swerves the race and plenty of these will be shorter on the day.
Balko De Flos has been one of the big ante-post springers but I question how real his second in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase is, an effort fully a stone better than anything he'd shown before, and his jumping has not always been accurate. Plenty of this field have more depth to their form. Cue Card is one of those and his Ascot second might be the best on offer though there is a chance that hard race will have taken the edge off him. At least he is running in the right race at the meeting where he has a real chance of winning.
Sub Lieutenant is the other one I would throw into the mix and he would have finished a closer second in this last year with a clear run. A specialist two-and-a-half miler, his overall form is masked a little by runs over three miles and Henry De Bromhead seemed to make the right call after the John Durkan by giving him a break in the light of the subsequent runs of the two that beat him there. The issue with him is participation; he is a big price on the Exchange and could only be backed with the non-runner, no-bet condition.
Yanworth may look an obvious one as he beat Supasundae at Aintree last spring but his preparation has not been that of a typical Grade 1 hurdle winner; Big Buck's may have reverted from chasing to win this but he didn't do so directly, instead having a prep run in the interim. It is also a concern that Yanworth flopped at last year's Festival with no apparent excuses while it seems clear that Supasundae is just a better horse than he was last year. He would not have won an Irish Champion Hurdle, however weak, on last spring's form.
Supasundae is respected allowing that there is the slightest of stamina doubts about him but preference is for Sam Spinner. I like backing 'this season's horse' in championship races; these are horses that have had their seasons go to plan and ran in the races they should have. Sam Spinner fits that mold and should be clear favourite. The ground has been put forward as a negative for him but his figures on good-soft read:12121 and a bigger concern might be his jockey's lack of experience of the track but that seems unduly factored into his price.
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Back Terrefort @ [8.4] and Bigmartre @ [21.0] for the JLT Novice Chase
Back Sam Spinner @ [6.0] for the Stayers’ Hurdle