The Cheltenham Festival is now seven days away and Tony Keenan is previewing each card, a week ahead of time. He has three fancies for Tuesday...
"That leads me to Paloma Blue. He was a fine third to Samcro last time, travelling like the second best horse having been much too keen early and should be suited by better ground."
If you aren't already heartily sick of Cheltenham tips, you surely will be by next Tuesday; the preview night circuit may have been halted in the blocks with last week's weather but it will be in full swing by the time you read this. With that in mind, before going through individual races for these day-by-day previews, done a week ahead of time, I'm going to discuss some more general betting approaches to the Festival. All that is a bit rich coming from someone who is more part of the preview night problem than the solution but anyway...
If I could offer punters but one piece of advice at Cheltenham then it is to be flexible in your thinking. The Festival betting markets, particularly at the front end, have been pretty much set for weeks and aren't going to change between now and early next week unless there is a significant non-runner. But they will look different on the morning and by off-time.
Consider the case of Un De Sceaux in last year's Ryanair. He had been a solid 7/4 shot in the weeks before the meeting before being available at 3/1 on the morning of the race. The reason - that Willie Mullins would not train a winner in the first two days, despite having Douvan in the Champion Chase - was hard to predict. He was backed into a Betfair SP of [2.78] and punters who hadn't considered supporting him going into the meeting got a surprise opportunity to play at a value price.
Predicting which markets are going to shift markedly next week is difficult if not impossible. I expected that Footpad would be available at a bigger price than he was going into last weekend in the Arkle but rumours about his wellbeing on Saturday seem to have already precipitated that move. In truth, not many of the market leaders have any real scope to shorten at this point with the possible exception of Might Bite whose price seems likely to be impacted by the performance of stablemates Buveur D'Air and Altior earlier in the week. The point here is to keep an open mind and don't be afraid to change it should an opportunity present itself.
In the advised prices below, please be aware the Sportsbook odds quoted are not non-runner, no-bet aside from the Championship races; this is coming on Wednesday at 10am. I would strongly advise readers to wait for the non-runner, no-bet concession in the cases of Jer's Girl and Any Second Now, both of whom have alternative entries over the week.
Getabird is a 'meh' favourite to me, the horse with the best form but with more than a little of the Mullins/Ruby/Ricci angle in this race factored into his price. Soft ground - which seems more likely now than is often the case at this meeting - would help him but my way into this race is to oppose the UK-trained trio of Kalashnikov, Summerville Boy and Claimantakinforgan. All three achieved their respective best efforts at Newbury, Sandown and Ascot in races where the pace collapsed and that sort of form can be untrustworthy; furthermore, they may need that sort of race to show their best form.
Samcro is unlikely to run here but if he is a superstar - and there is plenty to say that he is - then I want to be with the horses he has beaten as such runners can be underrated. That leads me to Paloma Blue. He was a fine third to Samcro last time, travelling like the second best horse having been much too keen early and should be suited by better ground. Improving at the right time, he's worth a small bet win and place but I will really be looking to get with him when the without Getabird markets become available.
I wrote about Petit Mouchoir being a value play for this when he was 5/1 straight after the Dublin Racing Festival but won't be putting him up around [3.5] now as the juice has gone. The case for him remains obvious: he was a better hurdler than Footpad, did well to get so close to him last time considering his early mistakes and should improve plenty for that run. Footpad has an obvious chance and is hard to knock on anything but price.
It is tough to be negative on what Saint Calvados did last time but he would be a highly atypical winner of this race, lacking the hurdling class of most past winners and facing a number of horses who tick that box. Really deep ground may be needed for him to show his best - he appears to have a significant knee action - while this is a totally different test to what he has met thus far.
Boring, move along... Faugheen may be the second-best horse in this but the way he will be ridden (likely to be make it a test for Buveur D'Air) could see him finish fifth. My Tent Or Yours, race specialist that he is, could be the one to pick up the pieces behind the favourite and finish second.
Having initially bought into the idea that Apple's Jade could be vulnerable fresh, I have gone back on that thinking; her last two runs off a mid-season break when second in a Triumph Hurdle and second to Limini were arguably career bests (at least on the clock) and you have to give Gordon Elliott some credit that he will be wise to any potential lack of sharpness and have her hard-ready. The Mullins trio that follow her in the market are all vulnerable on one level or another; Let's Dance ran poorly last time and has been described as 'not firing' by her trainer this season, Benie Des Dieux faces the tough task of reverting to hurdles in a Grade 1, Vroum Vroum Mag was due to be covered this spring and may yet be which is hardly encouraging.
Their respective frailties seem to open up the without the favourite market and Jer's Girl is one that interests me. She is being aimed at the meeting, is decent fresh and was going quite well when falling three out in this race last year. Sent off at 14/1 that day, she is available at a similar price without Apple's Jade now despite no apparent drop-off in her abilities. She got pretty close to the favourite in the Lismullen Hurdle before being better than the form behind Le Bague Au Roi at Kempton; trapped wide and held up off a slow pace, she wasn't helped by a mistake at the last either.
De Plotting Shed has been the big plunge horse for Tuesday's finale but he looks very short at [7.0] currently and I suspect his price has something to do with the amount of coverage there was about his rating and whether or not he would get into the race. In the cold light of day, he is a horse that hasn't won since November 2016, has chase form that scarcely merits a mark of 143 and may have his own ideas about the game, not looking the most willing at Fairyhouse on his penultimate run.
This race has become a JLT-lite, more quantity but less quality than that race, and with such a narrow spread of weights it makes sense not to look for the best handicapped runner but simply the best horse. That could well be Any Second Now. His season thus far has been about chasing home Monalee, Invitation Only and Footpad, all of whom are among the favourites for their respective novice races. His last run was a little disappointing but he seemed to find himself out of the race from an early stage and this trip is more to his liking anyway. All ground bar very fast should be fine for him with his best effort at Christmas coming on the best ground he has encountered.
Back Paloma Blue @ [20.0] to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Back Paloma Blue @ [4.5] to place in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Back Jer's Girl each-way @ 8/1 without the favourite in the Mares' Hurdle (Sportsbook)
Back Any Second Now each-way @ 8/1 in the Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase (Sportsbook)