Six Festival NRNB wagers
Matt Brocklebank, Will Hayler and Ben Linfoot offer two horses each that could be worth backing NRNB for the Cheltenham Festival.
Kruzhlinin: Worth a punt for the Festival in the Pertemps?
With the safety net now in place, this is surely the right time to get some speculative ante-post wagers in the bank and our racing team are on hand to guide you in the right direction…
Hush money in Triumph
Evening Hush sounds like something you might paint on your lounge wall, but she's also a talented filly who looks a little overpriced at 33/1 for JCB Triumph Hurdle glory.
Evan Williams' charge was readily brushed aside by Triumph favourite Defi Du Seuil at Chepstow in December, but her trainer feels she wasn't at her best that day in the deep ground and a mistake four from home didn't help her cause.
Prior to that she had looked very good at Exeter and Aintree, where she produced some powerful displays off the front end on the way to a couple of impressive successes.
Williams is giving her the chance to prove she's up to the required level of the Triumph by running her in the Adonis at Kempton on February 25 and a bold display there, potentially against Charli Parcs, could see her Cheltenham odds tumble.
A Flat bred, by Excellent Art, she could well improve on spring ground and her bold front-running style evokes memories of the same stable's Barizan, who almost pinched the 2010 Triumph before being reeled in by Soldatino.
Two fillies claimed spots in the top four in last year's Triumph, no doubt helped in part by their 7lb sex allowance, and if Evening Hush is let loose in this year's renewal she could be hard to catch.
She appeals as a NRNB bet as she could skip Cheltenham altogether and be aimed at Aintree, given she looked so impressive at Liverpool earlier in the season. However, if Williams does unleash her in the Triumph it will be because she's earned her ticket – and if that's the case she's unlikely to be as big as 33/1. (Ben Linfoot).
Toast the Festival with Champagne
The key to a good NRNB play for Cheltenham is not so much to think outside the box, but to smash it up and burn it. In contrast to stablemates such as Annie Power and Faugheen, it seems to have been pretty plain sailing for Willie Mullins with Douvan so far this season.
Yes, a miserable cynic like me might question quite what value he has brought to the great game in winning at 1/6, 1/8 and 1/14 and I'd have liked to have seen him in the Tingle Creek (perhaps next year?), but there's still time for him to be given the opportunity to show how good he really could be. Let's hope it's the Gold Cup next season.
If he runs in the Champion Chase, he'll probably win. That's nothing you didn't already know. But if, for whatever reason (and, lest we forget, he is still in the Ryanair), he doesn't turn up then step forward super-sub Champagne Fever.
He hasn't run at Cheltenham since being turned over Western Warhorse (who?) in the 2014 Arkle and has only been seen once this season, winning over six furlongs further at Thurles.
I don't believe for one minute that it's likely he'll run here. But with Douvan's first sub in this race, Vroum Vroum Mag, likely to be needed elsewhere, and Ruby Walsh adamant that Un De Sceaux wants the longer trip of the Ryanair, it's far from unfeasible to think Champagne Fever could return from the shadows to the scene of his Supreme Novices' Hurdle glory and put up at least a spirited performance in this contest from the front. And if he makes it to the line-up, he won't be the 33/1 chance he is now. (Will Hayler)
Hobbs' choice in Pertemps?
Kruzhlinin qualified for the Pertemps at Aintree in October when third to Caid Du Berlais. That was a confidence booster after a couple of disappointing runs over fences and he went on to win the Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock on his next start.
Returned to fences after that, he was a good second to Our Kaempfer at Kempton last time and he might well return to the same track for the BetBright Chase later this month.
If he does well in that race, he could well stay over fences at the Festival. Which is fine as you'll get your money back.
But no matter how he does in his next chasing assignment, I think connections will think long and hard about reverting to the smaller obstacles at Cheltenham.
Firstly, his hurdles mark is lower than his chasing mark. Only by 3lb as things stand, but every little helps.
Secondly, he hasn't jumped well in two handicap chases at the Festival in the past. He was pulled up after mistakes in the novice handicap chase in 2013 and was somehow fifth last year behind Un Temps Pour Tout despite a less-than fluent round of jumping.
And thirdly, Hobbs has previous when it comes to successfully running chasers in the Pertemps. He won it with Fingal Bay in 2014, a horse that had been novice chasing earlier that same season, while If In Doubt was third in it last year, a hugely unlucky third, and he'd raced in the Hennessy earlier that campaign.
There are several if and buts there and here's another one: IF Kruzhlinin runs in the Pertemps he won't be 25/1. Not with Hobbs' recent record in the race with chasers.
It's also worth noting you won't get a better price elsewhere, even without the NRNB concession, further underlining the validity of this wager. (Ben Linfoot)
I Dini believe it
Thanks to the encouragement Denis O'Regan, several attendees of the Sky Bet/Sporting Life Cheltenham Preview evening in Leeds last year (RIP) made a couple of quid when Mall Dini took the Pertemps Final at the Festival last season and, in a rare success story from a difficult punting week, so did I.
As such, I've followed the progress of Pat Kelly's seven-year-old closely this season and I'm going to be fascinated to see what Phil Smith's team make of his four starts over fences when the weights are published for the Cheltenham Festival in the first week of March.
When it comes to getting horses handicapped for the Festival, some trainers prefer the sledgehammer-and-nut approach, but in contrast you'd be hard pressed to say that Mall Dini hasn't been given a fair crack of the whip in all four starts over fences over a variety of trips, each time being ridden fairly handily rather than being hunted around in the never-placed-to-challenge position others prefer.
And yet despite this I get the feeling that we're going to see an improvement in form from Mall Dini when the time is right in the spring, particularly when the combination of 1) stiffer test of stamina, 2) tongue-tie, 3) good ground and 4) fast-run race returns.
He took the Pertemps off 139. Is there a chance he'll get the same kind of rating over fences? Well, yes. And that's why I'd rather back him for the Kim Muir at 20/1 than the Ultima at half those odds. If he doesn't get in under the 0-140 ceiling for that race, you get your money back. If he does, then maybe that marginally less-competitive race might make more appeal than the other possible options. (Will Hayler)
And you could have it all…
The Gold Cup market is pretty well established now and there's unlikely to be much more than minor tinkering to the prices of Native River and Cue Card even if they come through their prep races with flying colours, but this weekend sees the last chance for something to 'spring' from a big price right down to single figures.
The Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown hasn't had a massive impact on the big race in recent years but Sunday's feature contains several interesting contenders hoping to enhance their Cheltenham claims, including Don Poli, Minella Rocco and maybe even Sizing John, who seems more likely to end up contesting the Ryanair Chase but is a fascinating contender with untapped potential as a stayer.
The Ryanair could also be the next port of call for Empire Of Dirt, but victory at Leopardstown would most likely see Gordon Elliott add this highly-progressive performer to his Gold Cup team, which also includes Outlander and Don Poli in the same colours.
He absolutely dotted up in the Festival Plate last March and and the return to three miles on his seasonal debut at Navan when last seen in November resulted in a career-best four-length victory in the Troytown.
Now rated 160, he's definitely heading into the spring under the radar a little and looks worth a small wager at the current price, which is likely to halve if he goes in again at the weekend. If not, he's unlikely to contest the Gold Cup itself so there's no obvious negative in getting involved at this stage. (Matt Brocklebank)
Smashing Plate price
Betting on Cheltenham Festival handicaps is fraught with danger – if you starting getting too carried away at this stage then you're in grave danger of ending up with four or five running for you on the day but not getting close to the winner.
However, one or two of the NRNB markets haven't been too badly sliced up following the announcement of the concession and that includes the Plate, where general market leader Bouvreuil looks well worth getting on side at 16/1.
Paul Nicholls may have this week been at pains to stress that Cheltenham isn't the be-all and end-all for his title-chasing string of horses, but you can count on the high-profile JP McManus-owned runners Modus and Bouvreuil being aimed at the big meeting and the latter looks absolutely made for this test.
He performed really well in the two big middle-distance handicaps at the track earlier in the season, despite seemingly hating the rain-affected ground, and he now goes into the spring with an official mark1lb than that off which he began the campaign.
That strikes as a particularly lenient piece of handicapping and this lightly-raced six-year-old seems sure to make it count at some stage, especially as his jumping seems much better on more suitable ground.
He looks to have been properly laid out for the Festival since his sixth behind stablemate Frodon in December and it's no great surprise given he's run so well at the meeting for the past two seasons. He was second in the Fred Winter before filling the same place in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase last term and could be more like 6/1 than 16s if he lines up once again in March. (Matt Brocklebank)
Posted at 0920 on 09/02/2017