With exactly two weeks to go until Cheltenham, Tony Keenan casts his eyes over the apparent bankers of the Festival and advises whether to Back, Lay or Stay Away...
"The quirks of Might Bite could be overdone at this stage as he has, by hook or by crook, won his last five starts and that would be seven but for a last fence fall with the Kauto Star at his mercy."
When considering the short-priced favourites for the Festival features - defined here as horses trading at [5.0] or shorter for one the Grade 1's - it is worth considering them as a group of 10 rather than in isolation; it is very, very improbable they all win with the likelihood of that outcome about 108,210/1. Translating their respective odds into expected winners where a horse priced at [2.0] is half a winner, a win as likely as a loss according to market, we expect little more than four of them to come out on top at Cheltenham.
That's my starting point anyway and I aim to come up with four of the group that will justify favouritism. In each case, I have taken one of three stances on the market leader - lay, play or stay away - with the last one meaning I am not sure what to do with it or the price looks about right.
Getabird - Supreme Novices' Hurdle - Stay Away
'All the rain we got last night was a big help to him.' That's what Willie Mullins said following Getabird's win in the Moscow Flyer on soft-heavy so the ground could be a way into opposing him though he won a bumper on good-yielding. The absence of If The Cap Fits is certainly a help and Getabird is one I am neutral on just now; he has the best form but the price isn't enticing. My way into this race will likely be opposing the trio of Kalashnikov, Summerville Boy and Claimantakinforgan whose best efforts came in races where the pace collapsed.
Footpad - Arkle - Lay
The great racing cliché of 'having done nothing wrong' applies to Footpad but he does look too short around [2.5]; there may be only 13 left in the Arkle but they include the talented trio of Petit Mouchoir, Saint Calvados and Sceau Royal. Certainly, Petit Mouchoir should not be nearly thrice his price given he beat him three times over hurdles last year (and was value for more than the margin of superiority in the Champion Hurdle) and he should come on plenty for his return at Leopardstown, his first run since October.
Buveur D'Air - Champion Hurdle - Back
This is a bad Champion Hurdle and one that Buveur D'Air should win; when the biggest concern is his trainer's worries about not having enough competition in the lead-up to the race, we know we are slap bang in the middle of the fake news era. Some punters will be looking to attack this race from a 'bad each-way' standpoint but perhaps the best way into it is My Tent Or Yours without the favourite as not only does he have the ability to finish second but he is also likely to be ridden with that position in mind.
Apple's Jade - Mares' Hurdle - Back
Much the best on all known form and used to beating the geldings, Apple's Jade should win this well. The lack of a recent run is a slight worry - she improved from Punchestown to this race last year when reversing form with Limini and stepped up on her 2016 Triumph Hurdle second at Aintree - but there may be nothing in this field that can expose that weakness. I would expect a better performance from her at Aintree and/or Punchestown though.
Samcro - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle - Stay Away
Like all good sceptics, I want to see it again from Samcro though it needs pointing out that he had some things wrong in the Deloitte, cutting back in distance and coming off a bad scope. His price does seem to have some of the 'Irish banker' hype built into it but like Getabird isn't one I have an ultra-strong view on. Duc De Genievres could be interesting without Samcro not least because he offers another way into his form line at a bigger price and he was better than the result at Leopardstown. He does however have six entries at the Festival and connections may want to avoid Samcro for all this seems the right race for him.
Presenting Percy - RSA Novices' Chase - Back
There is some noise around Presenting Percy's atypical route to this race, his last three runs comprising the Porterstown, the Galmoy and the Red Mills Chase, but that shouldn't cloud the fact that he has the best form and I like how he managed to get another chase run in last time. He likely didn't have a hard race either - it may have been on heavy ground but the pace was moderate - while it is hard to forget how easily he won the Pertemps last season, a race that has thrown up a few decent novice chasers. It is Monalee who looks a bit short as they finished in a heap in the Flogas and a few of those in behind could have claims to reverse form.
Altior - Champion Chase - Lay
While Altior may be the most talented horse in training, I'm a bit worried about the bounce with him and Jamie Lynch of Timeform has some excellent analysis on this in a piece that can be read here. With that in mind, improvement from Newbury is not a given and his breathing which has been operated on was hardly tested last time in a race where only the final sectional was fast. It has hard to see how this won't be run at a strong gallop with Special Tiara in the field and Min was better than ever last time when getting a lead.
Un De Sceaux - Ryanair Chase - Lay
This is a better Ryanair than last year and it got stronger again over the weekend with news that Cue Card will take his chance while there is still Waiting Patiently in the background. One thing that seems certain is that there will be more runners than in 2017 which likely means more pace pressure for Un De Sceaux and he was tying up in the finish a little last year having raced free in the middle part of the race. There seems less chance of him getting away with that this time and his price looks short.
Apple's Shakira - Triumph Hurdle - Lay
Another Triumph Hurdle, another set of underrated Irish juveniles looks best way to oppose Apple's Shakira. There is no obvious flaw in her make-up but she has always been a bit shorter than she should be on her achievements (understandable given her connections) including at the moment and I suspect the strong form-line in the race is the Spring Juvenile Hurdle represented by Farclas and especially Mr Adjudicator.
Might Bite - Gold Cup - Back
The quirks of Might Bite could be overdone at this stage as he has, by hook or by crook, won his last five starts and that would be seven but for a last fence fall with the Kauto Star at his mercy. He has won the best trial, is proven at the track and had a good preparation so ticks plenty of boxes and while this is a deep field, most of opponents have at least one serious question to answer. I would have him a little shorter than [5.0].