Cheltenham Trials: What Did We Learn?!
With just six weeks till the big week kicks off, and several bookmakers offering a money back concession for non runners, now is a great time to expand, or indeed begin, your Cheltenham ante post portfolio. Alex Miller gives us an idea of what to expect at Cheltenham in March.
The festival trials meeting (as the name implies) offers punters a wealth of information and while several Festival protagonists ran, one stood out as the obvious candidate for an ante-post wager. Saphir Du Rheuwas derided by some prior to the Cleeve Hurdle as a weak favourite, and having never raced further than 2m6f, facing a high quality set of opposition, the 6 year-old certainly faced a tough reintroduction to the division. His weakness in the market turned out to be unfounded as the gelding produced a tough performance that belied his relative lack of experience, overturning the 160 rated Reve De Sivola who would have loved the stamina test this race turned into. In contrast to certain races at the Festival, such as the Champion Hurdle, the trials for the World Hurdle have proven time and again to be good predictors for the real thing and as one of the premier trials run this season, this victory should not be taken lightly. While his talent has never been in doubt (certainly not by his trainer), we learnt a great deal on the 24th – chiefly Saphir Du Rheu’s capability to be fully effective over the 3m of the World Hurdle, the one attribute that every potential candidate must have and a pre requisite for consideration as an ante-post proposition. The race turned into a real scrap, with Saphir Du Rheu having to get past the multiple Grade 1 winner Reve De Sivola and favourite Un Temps Pour Tout, who was 13 lengths clear of the useful Cole Harden. These were race fit rivals at the top of their game and I fully expect the Cleeve Hurdle to produce several winners, therefore the fact that his trainer Paul Nicholls indicates he feels there is improvement in Saphir Du Rheu, and that he will be better suited by the Spring ground, is a big positive for the horse’s chances. The comparisons between the 4 times World Hurdle champion Big Buck’s and Saphir Du Rheu are obvious with the same ownership and a similar aborted introduction to chasing, however the young pretender has a long way to go before he can be considered worthy of being in the same league as the legendary festival hero. Nonetheless, 7/1 about a proven stayer with form already enough to win an average World Hurdle, and the promise of more to come, is more than fair and following Tom Segal’s tip in his Pricewise column, it won’t last long.
The fact that Peace And Cowas shortened as a result of his 3 length victory in the Triumph Hurdle Trial is ridiculous given that we learnt nothing we didn’t already know about the Juvenile, who was sent off at 4/9. The second – Karezak, was a decent enough horse on the flat and has transferred much of that ability to National Hunt racing, however, Geraghty had to work harder than he may have liked to beat the 8/1 shot, albeit having been short of room on the run in. While Peace And Co is undoubtedly a good horse, in a market with several quality contenders about which there is little form to assess, he cannot be recommended at 2/1, indeed if you believe him to be a certainty, you are much better advised to wait until the morning of the race where the fierce bookmaking competition is likely to push his odds out.
Many Clouds is a horse I backed in the BetBright Cup Chase, but one that I am not going to recommend for the Gold Cup itself. On paper Many Clouds has an obvious chance in the big race, with the 1 1/2 length victory over Smad Place and Dynaste (who is a Festival winner himself) putting him bang in contention from a form perspective, and his victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup having already proven his worth as a stayer. However, the Hennessy this year was slightly below the grade usually expected, with the favourite disappointing and the admirable but ultimately average 50/1 chance Houblon Des Obeaux filling the runner up position. With this in mind it is worth reviewing the form of the BetBright in more detail. The favourite (Dynaste) is a horse of great ability, but his trainer David Pipe admitted beforehand this was somewhat of a fact finding mission with regards to his ability to stay the 3m2f of the Gold Cup. Leighton Aspell, Many Cloud’s jockey, rode a clever race in tracking Black Thunder throughout then accelerating off an already high pace to ensure the race played to his strengths and to the favourite’s weakness. While it is certainly not a bad thing to have stamina in abundance for the Gold Cup, I just doubt that Many Clouds has the tactical speed that is crucial in the hurly burly of a Gold Cup, where he is very unlikely to be able to go on unchecked from so far out. Tactical speed is crucial in a Gold Cup as it allows horses to get out of tricky spots and gives jockeys far greater scope to place horses in the best possible position for the finish, and while horses have won without it, I am dubious that Many Clouds has the class necessary to get by when lacking this potentially pivotal quality. I would not put anyone off having a bet on Many Clouds to win the Gold Cup, but for my money I believe that Holywell may be the value. Ignore anything he does before Spring because that is when this horse comes alive and at 14/1 with Festival winning form already in the book, he is my idea of this year’s winner.
Saphir Du Rheu- World Hurdle – 1pt win at 7/1
Holywell – Gold Cup – 1pt win at 14/1