National Hunt steps up a notch at Cheltenham
Endless Escape is interesting in Arkle trial
Whatever your take on the recent Chepstow, Wetherby and Aintree, et al, cards so far, the phoney introduction to the domestic 2023-24 National Hunt most definitely ends with the three-day Cheltenham meeting this week, and I'll deal with the Friday races that have been priced up here.
The usual ground housekeeping to start with.
Soft ground likely on Friday
It is currently good to soft (soft in places) on the hurdles and chase tracks, while the Cross Country course is soft (good to soft in places).
The 7mm they had overnight did not change those going descriptions but, with a wet week in store (not massive amounts due admittedly, more of a constant light drizzle), it makes sense to proceed on the basis of soft ground.
I thought I'd do a Friday-column as a stopgap before the weekend entries arrived, and I had time to fully analyse those and the resulting odds, especially as the Sportsbook have priced up four races.
Some books have only bothered with one contest, and others none at all, so fair play.
I can quickly deal with the Cross Country handicap at 14:55. The flying Gordon Elliott is responsible for the 6/42.50 favourite Delta Work and 2/13.00 shot Galvin, but will he run both? I have no interest in this race, at the moment anyway.
That race attracted 14 entries and so did the 1m7f199yd handicap chase at 13:45, which opens the ITV action on Friday.
Horses with double-entries are as follows, so that rules these out for me at the ante-post stage. Actually, there are only two and they are Walk In Clover and Ballybreeze. Others are in a very valuable Ascot early-closer a week on Saturday, while it looks like Special Rate is not qualified.
With running plans up in the air, it is no surprise to see the race priced up so defensively, with four horses marked up between 7/24.50 and 5/16.00, with Calico the market leader.
Triple Trade is one of the horses in the aforementioned 68k-to-the-winner 2m167yd handicap chase at Ascot on November 25th (along with four others of these, including Calico) but he could look a big price at the Sportsbook's current 8/19.00 if he takes up this earlier, Friday engagement.
Late closers always tend to catch the eye unduly but he certainly shaped well when second here from well off the pace on good ground last month, and he went up only 1lb for it.
However, the reason why he had to come from last in that race is that he didn't travel at well, and had to be vigorously rousted at halfway, which is a red flag of sorts. But, as a heavy-ground winner, the expected easier ground here could well be in his favour.
Unexpected Party is the 7/42.75 favourite for the 1m7f199yd Grade 2 Arkle Trial at 14:20 and that Chepstow defeat of Knappers Hill looks even better after the runner-up's victory at Wincanton on Saturday.
However, he carries a 5lb penalty and, more pertinently, is also in the Paddy Power on Saturday, in which he is among the favourites (he is 5/16.00 with the Sportsbook). You surely can't consider him for this race at the moment, given the Saturday entry,
Other double-entries include the 3s poke Homme Public, the 11/26.50 chance JPR One, and Walk In Clover. That information alone means that I wouldn't want to be laying Mighty Tom at 9/43.25 as he could be the massive beneficiary if this race cuts up. If he comes over from Ireland, that is.
I thought Ben Clarke's Endless Escape was half-interesting at 16/117.00.
She was in the mares' Listed novices' chase at Bangor on Wednesday, a meeting that has just been abandoned, and this is obviously a far more daunting task for her on her chasing debut. Making your fencing bow around here is a fair ask.
But it sounds like Clarke has been killing time over hurdles with this mare and she will get the ease in the ground which is deemed essential for her, and of course she gets that very handy 7lb sex allowance.
She has also had a wind op since we last saw her finish seventh of 21 in the mares' novices' hurdle here in March.
The other ITV race on Friday is the 2m5f novices' hurdle at 15:30, in which Captain Teague is the 6/52.20 favourite, despite having to give weight away all round under a penalty.
I must admit I wasn't visually blown away by his Chepstow win on his return but the Time Bandits certainly were - that is me put back in my box - so maybe he justifies his lofty perch at the top of the market.
Double-entered rivals in here include Impose Toi and Heltenham, 7s and 8s respectively - no-shows from them could clearly make the favourite's task much easier - and Moonovercloon.
I will be back tomorrow I imagine with a thorough look at the big handicaps on Saturday and Sunday. I was surprised to see only 17 confirmations for the Paddy Power Chase and just 18 for the Greatwood Hurdle (they could take have taken maximum fields of 20) and the other weekend races once they have been priced up and updated.
No bets so far, though Endless Escape at 16s in the Arkle Trial at 14:40 may turn out to be a very fair enough price if one or two of the big guns defect.
'If' is the costliest word in betting, though and if I did put her up I suppose it could be construed as being a bit snide given Bangor (where she was declared at the overnight stage) was only abandoned just after 2pm on Monday and the markets may not have copped on to this yet.
Back later, or more likely tomorrow, with a look at the big weekend action.
Until then, good health. We could all do with a bit of that.
Watch this week's episode of Racing Only Bettor here...
Read Daryl Carter: Embrace Safer Gambling Week and use the tools available to you