Cheltenham Festival 2021 Day 2 Preview, Tips. CHACUN POUR SOI headlines in the Champion Chase. Photo Healy Racing / Racingfotos.com

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Favourites – Bankers or Blowouts?

Pretty much the last spectator-attended action of last year was the Cheltenham Festival and, regardless of the 20/20 hindsight about whether or not it should have had the green light for crowds, this year's event will be contested behind closed doors. That it will be contested at all, and that the entirety of the preceding seasonal narrative has played out - weather notwithstanding - is a cause for celebration during these times where not a great deal has been worthy of such emotional uplift.

With just 21 days until tapes rise for the opening skirmishes of the 2021 renewal of #CheltFest (I can hear the grinding of traditionalists' teeth as I pen that incendiary soshul shorthand!), time is nigh to fix mental bayonets and consider, in the round, what may transpire three weeks hence.

In this piece, we'll look at the shorties: those favourites whose current top quote is 5/4 or tighter. Using the age old hackney of 'banker or blowout', and mindful that for geegeez readers (and value players everywhere) the very notion of a banker is anathema, I'll offer a view as to which side of the back/lay divide I'd currently like to pitch my punting tent.

A recent history of short priced favourites at the Cheltenham Festival

First up, a short history lesson. The main lesson of history is "don't believe the hype", a message that resonates far beyond Festival jollies but which was poignantly reprised twelve months ago when, of the six favourites sent off at 5/4 or shorter, five were beaten. Ouch.

If that was a storm in the 2020 teacup, how does a more extensive tract of past performance influence our appetite for piling in at the sharp end?

As can be seen from the table and summary row above, there have been good times and bad times since 2009, with the management summary being that this is one of the less bludgeoning methods of wagering self-harm. But, of course, not all shorties are made equal; so is there anything to be gleaned from dividing what is already a very small dataset still further?

Despite the answer to that question almost certainly being 'no', for the record here are a couple of logical splits:

A lot of data manipulation and a very short read later we can now say the answer is certainly 'no'; which is unsurprising given the maturity of, and liquidity in, these markets. Nevertheless, when the media cries "certainty" and the market posits 4/6, punters are well served to beware.

The full list of qualifying runners is below, and may bring back painful memories for some, yours true included!

2021 Cheltenham Festival Shorties: Banker or Blowout

There is a quintet of ante-post shorties for this year's renewal of the Fez (yet more trads reaching for 'off' switch!) and they shape up price wise like this:

Time to consider each horse's respective merits...

Arkle Challenge Trophy: Shishkin

Form this season

Unbeaten in three facile wins in novice chases, most recently in a brace of Grade 2's, with no horse yet landing a glove on him. In spite of the small fields - he beat a trio of rivals in each - the form is solid and the times have been good. His fencing style is economical and comfortable: he has barely put a foot wrong thus far.

Shishkin is now unbeaten in seven completed starts, having fallen on his hurdling debut.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Sent off 6/1 joint-third favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year, he was hampered by a faller as the race was hotting up, but overcame that impediment to hold the late charge of Champion Hurdle fancy, Abacadabras. That was his only race at Cheltenham.

Obvious dangers

For a while this looked a matter of 'how far' assuming good health and a clear round, but the emergence of Energumene - an energumence? - as comfortably the best of the Irish has livened up the pre-race debate immeasurably.

On form, Willie Mullins' charge is a serious threat. But he does have a lot more questions to answer: how will he handle Cheltenham? Does he need to lead and, if so, how will he handle Allmankind? If he doesn't need to lead, he has yet to prove his effectiveness from further back. And how will he handle drier ground if indeed it pans out that way?

None of these are of concern to Shishkin, who looks sure to get his favoured lead - either from Allmankind, or that one and Energumene - and who will have every chance having dealt with all underfoot terrain, longer trips, and the Cheltenham contours already.

If Energumene and Allmankind lock horns on the speed, they may both pay for those exertions in the manner that Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir did in the 2018 renewal of this race, setting things up for a 14-length rout for Footpad. Shishkin is undeniably more of a horse than Footpad, and a tear up on the front end could see him record the largest winning distance of the meeting.

But if Energumene is ridden more conservatively, there are two possible dangers. The more obvious is that, in a fair fight, the Irish raider is simply better than the domestic challenger; the less obvious is that, by marking each other, the top two grant Allmankind - a very good horse in his own right - an easy and unassailable lead.

The other fly in the Shishkin ointment is the form of the Nicky Henderson yard, on the face of it at least: a single winner since 10th February, from 28 runners, is not the sort of record a Champion Trainer needs going into the biggest gig of the year. But, of course, we're not yet at the eve of Cheltenham and, in any case, that headline figure masks what have been largely acceptable (if not altogether pleasing) efforts from his Seven Barrows squad.

A place strike rate of 36% is more compelling, and a majority of runners have performed at least close to market expectation. Notably, the big guns - Chantry House, Champ - have run very well. Still, better will have been expected overall and better will be needed if Shishkin's price is not to flirt with odds-against between now and mid-March.

Verdict

Shishkin looks a superb athlete and a very fast horse. His trainer is having a wobble just now but knows better than anyone - even Willie M - how to campaign a precocious two-mile chaser. Having ticked the race conditions boxes, and with a pace setup almost certain to play to his A game, he looks a 'banker' (relatively speaking).

*

Mares' Hurdle: Concertista

Form this season

Lightly raced, as is often the modus operandi with Willie Mullins' better mares, Concertista has run just twice this term. She beat the same mare, Minella Melody, by nearly two lengths in a Grade 2 in November and then by more than six lengths in a Grade 3 at the turn of the year.

The hallmark of those runs, and indeed her run style generally, is being held together off the pace before cruising through to prevail comfortably. In so doing it is hard to peg the level of her form exactly, always leaving the impression there is more in the tank.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Presented off a layoff of eighteen months prior to the 2019 Mares' Novices Hurdle, Concertista saw off all bar Eglantine Du Seuil as a 66/1 chance that day. She had twenty rivals behind her and only a short head to the one in front. That singular race in the 2018/19 season meant she retained her novice status the following campaign and, lining up in the same race last March, she outclassed a similar 22-strong field by an emphatic dozen lengths.

This will be her third visit to the Festival and she offers very solid credentials on that score.

Obvious dangers

It very much depends who lines up on the day. If the ground dries out, it might be that connections of Honeysuckle decide to run over this two-and-a-half mile trip rather than the extended two of the Champion Hurdle. That would change the complexion markedly.

Likewise, though to a lesser degree, if Roksana stepped this way rather than to the Stayers' Hurdle, she would present a fierce challenge.

But there is very little depth to this field beyond the aforementioned three: they bet 9/1 Dame De Compagnie (who has been chasing, has four entries, and is far from a certain runner in this), 14/1 Verdana Blue (more likely for the County Hurdle, I think), and 20/1 bar (including Elimay, who more likely goes to the Mares' Chase).

Verdict

If Honeysuckle goes to the Champion Hurdle and if Roksana goes to the Stayers' Hurdle, Concertista could be the shortest priced favourite at the meeting. If Honeysuckle comes here, she may be 4/7 or so.

This is a ground dependant conundrum: drying ground would increase the chance of Honeysuckle running here, but decrease the chance of Roksana doing likewise. Concertista is expected to run here regardless (though she is still entered in both the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Chase).

The way to play this, if you're so inclined, is to back Concertista at 6/5 and Honeysuckle at 5/4, both non-runner no bet. Most likely, you'll have 6/5 about an odds-on shot and money back on the other; second most likely is that you'll have 5/4 about a 4/7 shot and a poor value back up ticket. That may not sound exciting right now but it is odds on to look value on the day.

*

Brown Advisory (ex RSA): Monkfish

Form this season

Another Willie Mullins inmate, Monkfish has been imperious this season in brushing aside talented opposition with relish. Monkfish with relish: tasty!

Lousy puns aside, he won his beginners' chase in a canter before being merely pushed out to record a pair of Grade 1 successes in recognised trials, by three lengths and then eleven lengths from the talented Latest Exhibition. He is by some margin the pick of the Irish challengers.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Not only is Monkfish unbeaten in three chase starts this term, he is also the reigning Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle champ, earning a hard-fought verdict over... you guessed it, Latest Exhibition. That was his only visit to Cheltenham so he is unbeaten in one both at the track and at the Festival.

Obvious dangers

It is quite hard to find 'obvious' dangers to Monkfish. He has blitzed the best of the Irish this season, and he did the same to the best of the British and Irish here last season over hurdles.

Of course, he's a novice and the fences have to be jumped, so that's a possible issue.

In terms of potential rivals, Royale Pagaille has looked a mud machine this winter, but that one has numerous other possible engagements, principally the Gold Cup itself. Moreover, the two horses are in the same Ricci ownership and will surely attempt to divide and conquer.

The only other possible issue is ground: good to something would present a challenge met only once previously, when Monkfish was beaten into second on debut in a 2m2f bumper at the Punchestown Festival in May 2019.

Verdict

It's double digits bar Fishcake - as Nicky Henderson once flippantly (and very amusingly, imho) labelled the jolly - and Royale Pagaille; and, with options over longer and shorter for shying rivals, this could cut up dramatically. Monkfish looks very strong in this division.

*

Champion Chase: Chacun Pour Soi

Form this season

Three runs, three wins, in Grade 2 and Grade 1 (twice) company, beating the right horses with nonchalance. He travels like a dream, jumps very well and, if he faces the starter at Cheltenham, will have managed more runs this season than in the previous two combined.

His form this campaign is well clear of any other two mile chaser on either side of the Irish Sea.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

It was all going so well, but then... Chacun Pour Soi was pulled out at the eleventh hour last year and, as such, has yet to race outside of Ireland. That leaves question marks not just over the track but also about travelling generally: he did come over on the boat last year but was withdrawn with a foot abscess.

Whilst it may very much be a case of abscess making the heart grow fonder (sigh), it also nods to this fella's hitherto fragility. Against that we do have a trio of scores, and an absence of scares, so far this term. But we have still to conjecture about his ability to handle the idiosyncrasies of Cleeve Hill.

Obvious dangers

He himself is the obvious danger. Will he stay in one piece? Will he handle the travel? Will he handle the track?

Of the other horses in the race, each has eroded his or her case at some point: Arkle winner Put The Kettle On was bashed by Chacun, albeit after what was a very hard race at Cheltenham first up this season, and she may bounce back training up to the race; Altior is patently not the horse he was; Politologue has a rock solid Champion Chase profile but not against the calibre of CPS; and Defi Du Seuil is a binary chap, more zeros than ones in recent times.

The leftfield option is First Flow, who was exhilarating at Ascot last time. He'd need supplementing, very likely, but he'd also need to improve another eight pounds on current ratings - less likely.

Verdict

Chacun Pour Soi has to contend with himself. His form is in another postcode to his rivals in a market still trying to get him beaten with the wonderful but past his best Altior and a sizeable group of second division chasers. A horse like Fakir D'Oudairies, who is 20/1 NRNB in a place because he's more likely to fly Ryanair, might be a feasible hail mary in a race loaded with if's and but's.

Those imponderables extend to the favourite which makes him unplayable outright at the prices for all that he is the outstanding logical choice. [I did flag him in a derivative market at more appealing odds, as I don't really seeing him finishing second or third. He will win, or something will have happened between now and the finish line, is my wagering opinion.]

*

Marsh: Envoi Allen

Form this season

Three runs, three wins this campaign have meant Envoi Allen is now eleven from eleven lifetime under Rules (plus one point to point), all of them as favourite and only once at odds-against (the 2019 Cheltenham Champion Bumper). The middle leg of his 2020/21 hat-trick was a comfortable verdict in the Grade 1 Drinmore, and it was little more than a schooling round against Grade 3 rivals last time. I wasn't as impressed as some with that most recent effort for all that he still bolted up.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Two tries at the track, both at the Festival, have yielded two victories; the Bumper score was by a narrow margin, his Ballymore victory more unequivocal. He beat 13 rivals the first day and eleven the second and, well, he just keeps winning.

Obvious dangers

This looks another case of getting to the start line. Unlike CPS, EA has been slated to start twice and has started - and finished first - twice. He's had an incident-free prep thus far and has jumped really well in his three chase races to date.

Still, those fences need to be jumped, and he has to arrive pristine at Prestbury. It is hard to nominate dangers thereafter.

Verdict

The Brown Advisory would have meant a likely clash with Monkfish, the Arkle a ding dong with Shiskin, Energumene and Allmankind. The Marsh feels a bit like the coward's route for a horse boasting his CV. More generously, it is the best opportunity to extend the winning sequence.

You can bet double figures any other horse likely to run in this race - single digit quotes about Energumene and Monkfish don't even appeal NRNB especially - and there has to be some each way value, though I've yet to go through the fine detail to find it.

What is clear is that, on form, Envoi Allen is different kit.

**

Summary

Last year, five of the six horses sent off at 5/4 or shorter were beaten. This year, we look set to have at least five runners priced in that same bracket. Mishaps aside, it is hard (for me, at least) to make credible cases to oppose any of the quintet.

But mishaps do happen: in 2020, Paisley Park had a palpitation, Patrick Mullins was carelessly ejected from Carefully Selected (very harsh on the jockey, apols, poetic license for a play on words), Tiger was Roll'ed over by a heretofore unconsidered French assailant, Defi did the Defi thing, and 'mon dieu' Benie was beaten by Honey.

Any horse could come down or have a heart murmur in the heat of combat; Shishkin could get beaten by Energumene; a previously unsighted dark horse could emerge in one of the novice chases (though that feels unlikely).

In short, stuff could - and at some point probably will - happen. But I'd be hard pushed to bet against any of this quintet in the win slot if they trotted round at the start. That's my view, uncontroversial as it is. What about you? Which horse(s) would you hang your hat on? And where are you looking to get a hotpot beaten? Leave a comment and let us know.

Matt

 

 

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13 replies
  1. 10 Things You Didn't Know about Geegeez Racecards
  2. stevecockell1973
    stevecockell1973 says:

    Hi Matt,

    Enjoyed reading this article this morning on the back of the news of another 5 weeks of lockdown for the majority of us. It makes the Festival even more enticing and important for most of us now that Boris has announced his road map.

    I can’t disagree with any of what you have flagged up. For me, the hardest (or best) race seems to be the Arkle, but surely the race will be run to suit and I think that Shishkin really could be the best horse we watch for the next 3-4 years. I can’t have anything to beat him unless as you say, they gift Allmankind an easy lead but even then he might end up going too quick to stay on his feet. I also like the play in the mares hurdle – I am all over that idea and will add in to my ante post ideas.

    One final thing, I am not sure that Altior is a dead duck yet. I am holding out hope that he will remember the good times at Cheltenham and appreciate the test of jumping that it offers. I also think he hasnt had too much racing over the years and it might just be one of those festival moments that we all savour! Its got sentimental fool written all over it but I am going to stick by him and have a saver of CPC if he doesn’t get seasick.

    Cheers for now – with the dead certs sorted, Im off to find a 40/1 winner in JP McManus silks for one of the handicaps.

    Steve

  3. PAUL
    PAUL says:

    great article Matt, thanks for putting together.
    I think the only one those I’d look to take on is Chacun.
    He may well cruise home and make me look silly.
    He’s never run, never mind won at Cheltenham, the ground seems sure to dry out, the race will be run at a furious gallop with Politologue and Put The Kettle On in it and I remember Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Defi in recent years getting beat at odds-on.

    There must be an each-way play to be had in the race.

  4. peterz59
    peterz59 says:

    For me here the play is to oppose the bankers with a place alternative or without the fav market or leave the races alone. I like the place bet on Betfair here as there is no doubt some value in opposing short priced horses. Of the individuals themselves Chacun Pour Soi is very hard to oppose on the form. So if I was to go for one of them he would be it.. As for opposing him Put The Kettle looks solid for a place. As for the others the horse I like is Almankind. However if Energumene was to take him on for the lead that could seriously compromise his chances. At the end of the day it comes down to a long term strategy of opposing short price favs as over a period of time it makes sense to oppose them on price alone.

    • Denmania
      Denmania says:

      Why would oppose them on price alone? If you rated something a 1/3 shot and it was 4/5 you’d surely want to lump on at significant value

      • peterz59
        peterz59 says:

        I’ve no problem with that if you rate a horse a 1/3 shot compared to the rest of the field. And a short priced value horse is obviously a good bet. But in my experience it is hard to justify over a period of time a price shorter than 3s. There are obviously exceptions to the rule. But I also find it very difficult to justify short prices less that 3s most of the time on the form book. On price alone I was suggesting that you could have a cut off point at how low you want to back a horse based on your strike rate etc. I rarely believe on my selection process over a period of time that backing short price favorites pay. So it is a strategy based on the principle of opposing the favorite in search of value over a period of time. Unless of course you are prepared to significantly up your stakes on the short priced good thing.

  5. RoosterCogburn
    RoosterCogburn says:

    Good write up Matt.

    The thing that strikes me is that if you omit the big 4 Mullins/Elliot/Henderson/Nicholls you have 11 horses in your list 10 of which got beat.

    Unfortunately this year the 5 shorties are trained within said group.

  6. petersh
    petersh says:

    Hi Matt
    Great stuff as usual is Barry Cryer still writing the one liners?
    I would agree with Paul (above) that chacun is the one to take on although that is probably swayed by my 40/1 e.w. First Flow !!
    I would add Kilcruit in the bumper to the shorty list of bankers to bet after his rout of what beforehand looked a classy field at leopardstown .I have been watching racing for over 60 years and can’t remember an easier winner(that might be due to the 60 years of course!)

  7. Denmania
    Denmania says:

    Great article Matt, I think Shishkin is a lay. I find it very strange that a horse yet to win a grade one over fences is the favourite! The Mullins horse beat a previous grade 1 winner by 10l on the bit. As I’ve mentioned before about the supreme the first and second were both inconvenienced before the turn for home and it’s taken a long time to get up and win.

  8. Rotund legend
    Rotund legend says:

    At least one will be beaten. I will go with Chacun Poir Sui to either not turn up or be beaten on the day. If I had to pick two to be beaten I will go Concertista.
    You are correct in that Envoi Allen has taken the easy option and Monkfish and Shishkin are very good.

    Good luck Martin

  9. Monsieurbernie
    Monsieurbernie says:

    certainly not forgotten last years odd on shots getting beaten, painful viewing!

    so it has stuck in the mind, but this time i have none of the hot pots at odds on, all backed in november/december so sitting pretty so can just watch and hope they land … on the day i could go with an ew alternative for insurance on them.

    prob chacun pour soi the weakest for me, nube negra a nice play ew currently 12/1

    concertista will prob face roksana, honeysuckle will go champion hurdle. roksana is an ew bet to nothing! nrnb.

  10. Jonathan da Silva
    Jonathan da Silva says:

    I guess I look at how competitive a race is. Are there other top class or near top class horses there. Is there much margin for a bad ride and is there a chance they will not be at their best? More good horses etc can find out horses jumping in traffic being asked to come up etc less scope to pop the last etc etc

    I will consider taking on ironically probably the most impressive novice in Shishkin. Monkfish looked so good at the DRF. Envoi is one I would bet against if he faced something – I like to take on cruisers who’ve not come off the bit and not clocked superb times and get style points from handicappers. However it’s maybe a race I back something in but not looking too hard at present.

    Shishkin faces some genuine threats. His run at Xmas I was decrying the stupid sport that won’t see him even try to win an unrestricted race till virtually 8yo. However and it’s not huge but he stepped back last time acc Simon Rowlands 169->162 and for me visually. Now he’s novice and did not have to be any better but also horses start going backwards formwise often get worst even if it’s a few pounds.

    Last 2 uber novices of Henderson’s both dipped at Cheltenham [Altior won nicely but the form 6 wickets into Cloudy Dream!! Simonsig beating Bailly Green 2 lengths is below even my lowish view of him – his professional [non novice] record ended up one win in a Grade 2 Hurdle (the Morebattle) prior to winning the Ballymore/Neptune/whatever TBF he did beat a future Grade 1 winner in Knockara Beau – I loved RP rated him 30th best 2 miler well ahead of God’s Own who handed him and Vautour their lunch at Punchestown and he never won an unrestricted chase].

    Oddly probably most want Shishkin to show what I saw and was clocked at Xmas but he has the best case to get beaten which is the debate here.

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