Tony Calvin on the Betfair Hurdle: Top three look solid but Ranger catches the eye
Our big-price tipster Tony Calvin has cast an early eye over Saturday's feature race, the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, and while he's keeping his powder dry for now there is one intended runner that's catching his interest...
"Moore, who also has Distingo and Ar Mest in here, is another to have tasted recent success in this race with Violet Dancer delivering in 2015 - and he also won it in a previous guise, with Wingman in 2008 and Heathcote in 2007 - and odds of around 20/1 look pretty decent about the 5yo (though he was 33/1 on Monday morning)."
I took my first serious look at the Betfair Hurdle earlier fully expecting to report that the ante-post favourite Al Dancer was criminally under priced at around the 4/1 mark.
But, given his profile and some less-than-scary opposition, I have to say it is probably a fair assessment of his chances. And he may well shorten.
It is certainly not a bet that I would have personally though, not least because I simply don't bet at those prices in big-field handicaps.
And the going is already soft at Newbury and the forecast this week - particularly on Friday and Saturday - strongly suggests the ultra-valuable 2m hurdle will be run on heavy.
Of course, that may be fine for Al Dancer, who won his novice hurdle under a penalty at Ffos Las in testing conditions (albeit at odds of 30/100) but very deep ground can be a great leveller of talent.
Heavy ground would be a concern for the jolly
And talented is exactly what Al Dancer is on the evidence of his win last time.
He was fourth in the Aintree bumper last April that has worked out so well, and he made it three from three over hurdles with a smooth 11-length win on good ground at Cheltenham last time.
He has gone up 12lb for that win, but the form stacks up.
He won in a very good time, for starters, and the runner-up went one better at Taunton next time. And the third, Champagne City, looks a well-handicapped horse on the evidence of his last run, too, having tanked through his race and traded at odds-on before again succumbing to the Cheltenham hill.
So I don't really have any issues with him being capable of a big run off a mark of 141, and plenty are anticipating victory as he is around a 12/1 chance for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
His trainer reckons he will be a 2m4f/3m performer in the future but other reports I have read about him suggests he is a speed horse - his trainer calls him a "beautiful mover ", too - so I would have concerns about him being seen to be optimum effect on heavy going.
Trump and Lecoq well fancied
There doesn't appear to a lot of lurkers and dark horses in the line-up, though Al Dancer's main market rival, Getaway Trump, is an obvious exception.
He is a heavy-ground winner who is improving fast on the evidence of his second to Champ over an extended 2m4f in the Challow at Newbury last time, where he travelled well through the race and stuck on well after the last.
That guaranteed stamina will come in very handy in the likely conditions and, again, you can see why he is a 9/2 chance.
The trainers of the two market leaders have unfinished business in this race after Nigel Twiston-Davies' 3/1 favourite Ballyandy (bidding for a repeat here after a Uttoxeter win last time) narrowly beat Paul Nicholls' 6/1 chance Movewiththeimes in 2017, the pair well clear, and it is entirely possible that their horses will dominate the market and this race once again (both have also won the race in recent years, too).
Next up in the betting is Monsieur Lecoq, who will have his ideal conditions.
He has gone up 15lb for two wins in testing conditions at Ffos Las and Sandown, but that rise is more than justified and he really did bolt up at the Esher track last time.
Again, the Williams stable know what it takes to win this contest, having landed the spoils with Agrapart by a country mile in 2016, and there is plenty to like about this similarly prominent racer. The 12s and 10s in the marketplace disappeared before the five-day declarations were made at midday on Monday, and he is now around an 8/1 poke.
Moores have a decent looking outsider
Other than that trio, I really was struggling to find something that interested me at a price in a race that was reduced to 23 from 41 at Monday's five-day stage- and that is problematic for someone with my tipping brief.
Lisp looks very solid after good seconds here and at Ascot, but he has gone up 8lb for those outings and may well have shown his hand too early.
Countister was another nibbled at close to midday today, being backed at a market-low of [15.0] on the exchange before the market was suspended. She certainly has an unexposed profile.
Sussex Ranger was the one that caught my eye most of the bigger prices, though.
You certainly can't say he was wildly impressive when winning at Fontwell last time, as Jamie Moore was at him all the way in what was only a 0-130 handicap.
But the horse responded in very gutsy fashion, and he could have each-way prospects off a 6lb higher mark.
He had previously really lost his way over hurdles, getting stuffed out of sight in his first two starts of the season, so at least Fontwell was a big step back in the right direction.
And it is well worth remembering what a good juvenile he was at the start of last season, winning in a really good time at Sandown and then chasing home We Have A Dream in the heavy-ground Grade 1 Finale at Chepstow.
He was rated 142 after that run, and he can race here off a 6lb lower mark despite that win last time, and Gary Moore will hopefully have freshened him up in the subsequent six-week break.
Moore, who also has Distingo and Ar Mest in here, is another to have tasted recent success in this race with Violet Dancer delivering in 2015 - and he also won it in a previous guise, with Wingman in 2008 and Heathcote in 2007 - and odds of around 20/1 look pretty decent about the 5yo (though he was 33/1 on Monday morning).
Previous winner Ginge out to defy his age
Splash Of Ginge won this race on heavy ground in 2014 and he would be the other to interest me a bit at a big price of around 33/1+.
He switches to hurdles after two poor runs over fences, and I thought he ran okay here on his return over the smaller obstacles.
He is down to a mark of 132 over hurdles, and he will certainly relish the ground. He is the oldest in the line-up at 11yo, so the trends boys couldn't have him, as the nine runnings of the Betfair Hurdle have all been won by 5 and 6yos.
Ireland have two representatives in here, Willie Mullins has top weight Saglawy and Gordon Elliott has High Expectations, but as usual the UK handicapper has made their task a little bit harder.
In summary, I will stop short of putting up a bet at the moment, but Sussex Ranger at 20/1 interests me most at this stage.
Good luck punting this week.
Latest Betfair odds as 23 stand
Betfair Spokesman, Barry Orr, said: "The main protagonists have stood their ground and with just half a point separating Al Dancer and Getaway Trump they look likely to duke-it-out for favouritism at the top of the market.
"We are now paying five places to ante-post punters and as you would expect seeing plenty of money for some bigger priced runners, most notably Countister, who is 10/1 from 16/1 and the Gordon Elliott-trained High Expectations at 25/1."
4/1 Al Dancer
9/2 Getaway Trump
15/2 Monsieur Lecoq
12/1 Lisp, Leoncavallo
14/1 Ballyandy, Mont Des Avaloirs
16/1 Didtheyleaveuoutto, Saglawy, Ch’tibello
20/1 Sussex Ranger
25/1 High Expectations, Zanza, Nordic Combined
33/1 William H Bonney, West To The Bridge, Blu Cavalier, Magic Dancer, Ar Mest, Splash of Ginge
50/1 Nelson’s Touch