Ahead of the Cheltenham November Meeting, the Betfair trading team give their thoughts on the new jumps season and who they think you should keep an eye on for the Festival...
"Pym is one that might not be on everyone’s radar but he was an impressive winner of the same Ayr bumper that Nicky Henderson won with Sprinter Sacre & William Henry and he could be one to keep in mind for the Spring festivals."
How do you see the season unfolding, on both sides of the Irish Sea?
It looks like Willie Mullins & Gordon Elliott will be going head to head again in Ireland and in all likelihood will dominate the graded races this season. It will be interesting to see if the trainers title will end up going down to the wire again this season & it will probably be dependent on whether a peak Faugheen, Douvan & Min can get back to the track.
If they do, Willie may be crowned Champion a little earlier this season. In the UK, Nicky Henderson appears to hold most of the trump cards at this stage, having the favourite for the King George, Champion Hurdle & Queen Mother Champion Chase and then he will have a battalion of decent novice hurdlers & chasers to call upon also.
Colin Tizzard has enough ammunition to build on his tremendous season last year, while Harry Fry & Fergal O' Brien are two shrewd trainers to keep onside this season.
What novices are you looking forward to seeing?
It is very unoriginal but Samcro is the one novice that already appears to be the one that will be the Irish banker for the Cheltenham Festival this season. It is rumoured that Gordon Elliott describes him as possibly the best horse he has trained & if he is correct, he won't be for beating this year.
Samcro... ✈️ pic.twitter.com/MqHZFejAGQ? At The Races (@AtTheRaces) October 19, 2017
Pym is one that might not be on everyone's radar but he was an impressive winner of the same Ayr bumper that Nicky Henderson won with Sprinter Sacre & William Henry and he could be one to keep in mind for the Spring festivals.
Of the stayers, White Moon, trained by Colin Tizzard has looked extremely impressive on his two runs in novice hurdles to date & is one we'll be following very closely this season. He may well develop into a Albert Bartlett contender.
In terms of novice chasers, you couldn't but be impressed with Footpad's debut & this looks to potentially be a weak year in the two mile novice chase division, as a result, he could be a very short priced favourite come March.
Although a bit disappointing on his chase debut, I wouldn't give up on Bacardys making into a very decent staying chaser. He is the only horse to have beaten Finian's Oscar & I'd be very surprised if he wasn't much sharper on his next start over fences.
The three mile chase division looks extremely strong. Who do you see emerging on top?
It looks really competitive, but at this stage Bristol De Mai looks like he could put it right up to Sizing John in the Betfair Chase, as Haydock and soft ground are exactly what he wants.
Looking further into the season, Might Bite is the right favourite for the King George, as the time he was producing - prior to falling - last year in the Kauto Star novices chase was seriously impressive. Again, the test Kempton poses, seems to really suit him & he may well prove tough to beat there.
Might Bite was impressive on his seasonal return and puts his three rivals to the sword pic.twitter.com/WgKipjcQ8V? Sandown Park (@Sandownpark) November 12, 2017
On the other side of the Irish sea, clearly Our Duke has massive potential and it's easy to forgive his run in Down Royal where he scoped dirty afterwards. If they can get him back to his best, he is a huge player in the likes of the Lexus & Irish Gold Cup this season.
The one horse to be really excited about in this division this season is Coney Island. He was very impressive in winning the Drinmore last year & perhaps with a little less aggressive ride, could have won the Grade 1 novice chase at Leopardstown last Christmas, where he seemed to be outstayed when Our Duke just got by him close home. Assuming he is fit & healthy, it's easy see him becoming a massive player in the Gold Cup.
Do you have a trainer & jockey that you think punters should be keeping onside this jumps season?
Mitch Bastyan is a 5lb claimer that is well worth his claim. He is very stylish & if one of the seasoned pro's produced the ride he gave On Tour recently at Aintree, we would be waxing lyrical. He looks like one that could go right to the top.
In Ireland, Donie McInerney is every bit as good as Bastyan and is also tremendous value for his 5lb claim. No doubt he will be aboard a few JP runners that will be winning valuable handicaps this season.
On the trainer front, just follow Fergal O' Brien in bumpers. He was operating at a 24% strike rate last season & is already at 28% this season. It is not uncommon to get a decent price about his runners, particularly when up against runners from more fashionable stables like Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson & Alan King.
Of the four Cheltenham Championship race favourites, who is most likely to defend their crown?
At this moment in time, it would have to be Buveur D'air simply because there doesn't seem to be that much depth in the Champion Hurdle division. If Faugheen does manage to come back at the peak of his powers, then we will be in for a huge clash in March but if he doesn't Buveur D'air might well double up.
Of the bigger named horses through the season, who are the trading team looking forward to taking on?
We'll be pushing to take on Thistlecrack in Grade 1 chases, as he will face a stronger three mile staying division than he faced last year and we're not convinced he wants the true test of stamina that a Gold Cup will ask of him.
Any 'left field' ante-post angles for punters to look out for?
Although it is a long way off, Alpha Des Obeaux is a horse that looks a rejuvenated character this season & it wouldn't be a surprise to see him develop into a Grand National contender.