As has become customary over the past few years (when I remember), I'm going to share my ante post portfolio for the 2018 Cheltenham Festival. For reasons of just being too bloody busy to watch as much racing as I'd like, it's a little smaller than normal, but that does afford the opportunity to talk to each line on the spreadie...
For info, and for whatever it's worth, here are previous versions (2014 and 2017 missing for some reason):
To this year, and here are the bets:
You'll note that I have no bets on Thursday at this stage. It's unquestionably the poor relation of the week and, to be honest, with Friday being very tricky indeed, my mission is to try to be in front at half time and then try not to lose it in the second half!
The first bet I struck is the last line in the spreadie - a gorgeous mug double on the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup. Might Bite has shortened significantly since mid-November, but Defi Du Seuil, impressive winner of the Triumph Hurdle last season, has failed to make the line up after two poor runs for a stable wrestling with a lurgy this term. (It should also be said that there's a very good chance he was simply not good enough, as most five year olds exiting the Triumph aren't. But, the logic was solid - I made it a very shallow Champion Hurdle and wanted something against Buveur d'Air).
In many people's opinion, the first day is the best. That may also be true of Aintree and indeed Royal Ascot, certainly in terms of consistent quality. The opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle is a race which can throw up a nice priced, but not impossible, winner and I've wanted to be against Getabird in spite of that one's obvious class.
I was impressed with Kalashnikov in the Betfair, a race which seems a reasonable trial for this contest and, while conditions are likely to be less testing next Tuesday, I don't think this lad is short of speed. He'll certainly finish off well enough and looks a decent place chance at least at the taken 10/1.
In the Arkle, I'm against Footpad. While he's done nothing wrong, he wasn't a better hurdler than Petit Mouchoir (4/1 taken) - in fact he was a few pounds inferior - and I'm not sure we've seen the best of the latter. Lob in the possible monster that is Saint Calvados (9/2) and you have a superb race in prospect, where 6/4 is just too short about the jolly. Of course, I'm not saying he can't or won't win; just that it looks a lot more competitive than that. As with Kalashnikov, I've managed to beat the market and, with Sceau Royal coming out, have so far dodged the late non-runner bullets (to continue the semi-automatic weapon analogy). Still time for that to change...
Very few guesses in the handicaps, but Gold Present in the Ultima is one I think will end up around the 5/1 or 6/1 mark, assuming he shows up. 10/1 was fair enough, and 8/1 probably still beats SP, though whether you want to bet at single figure odds in a race like this is moot. He's a progressive sort whose form has worked out very well. Probably wouldn't want it too soft, though.
The Champion Hurdle next and this is Buveur D'Air's race. When I previewed it a while back, I felt it might be worth taking a couple of NRNB stabs safe in the knowledge that we'd get the dough back if they didn't show. My pin fell on Min and Yorkhill. The former looks likely to stay chasing, and the latter has a lot to prove. But reverting to hurdles could be the perfect tonic. Sadly the 5/1 I accepted has now expanded to 10/1 NRNB and it is not that hard to envisage a rejuvenated Yorkhill proving the main danger to the champ.
In the National Hunt Chase, I've had something between a sentimental bet and a value guess on Anthony Honeyball's (actually, Martyn Chapman's) Ms Parfois. This gorgeous mare, who may win Nationals in the next couple of seasons, stays very well, jumps very well, and handles wet ground. Whether she quite has the class of some of these, I'm not sure. But 20/1 was too big. She's a general 16/1 chance and that may also be mildly on the generous side.
If I'm behind after Tuesday, there's a good chance my Festival will be a losing one; but Wednesday offers more hope than the two days which follow, so...
I had a guess on Next Destination in the Neptune/Ballymore back in early January, since when Samcro has shown himself to be a beast of a man. Still, Death Duty came to the Albert Bartlett with a similarly lofty reputation last term and was well beaten when decanting his rider at the last. 8/1 about a 5/1 shot is OK, especially each way, but this is a nice race. Quite apart from Samcro, there is also On The Blind Side, a smart Hendo novice, and probably one of the Brookhouse pair, Summerville Boy and Black Op.
In the RSA Chase, I took an early punt on Finian's Oscar. Even if he lines up here, he's had a wretched season and I honestly don't think the Tizzard team know quite where they are with him. Clearly talented, this looks another early season wish gone west. Backed at 16's, he's now 20's everywhere and I don't even have the luxury of NRNB. Given he's more likely for the JLT and could even go to the Stayers' Hurdle, it'll be a minor miracle to even get a run.
Charbel was a good ol' fashioned flyer in the Champion Chase for small money at a big price (nearly 50's on Betfair) back in mid-October. I have to say that, at this stage, I don't know if he will line up but, if he does and if he could come back to the form of his run in the Arkle last term, he'd have a definite squeak in a race where most of the top order have questions to answer. I hope he does show because it'll save me from losing money on something else!
Then comes the Fred Winter where, deities willing, a geegeez syndicate will have a runner! Oxford Blu is our lad's name, and he's been a fantastic stick for us already, with the promise of more to come. He wants further than the two miles he's been racing over (he's a flat winner over 2m2f as a 3yo already), needs a true run race, and handles any ground. Having the champion jockey riding won't be a bad thing if it comes to pass either. I had a dip at 33/1 each way, but in truth I'd have enough to cheer if he turns into the straight with any sort of chance...
More pragmatically, I took a tenner at 50's on Nick Williams' Esprit de Somoza. His win in the Chatteris Fen was not a fluke: rather it was the product of them going very fast early, which is a likely scenario in the Fred Winter. 50/1 is a distant memory now, even though the bet was struck in late February, and he's a top priced 16/1 - generally 14/1 - with Oxford Blu still 25/1 in a few places.
has nothing for me just yet, but I will be backing Waiting Patiently if he's declared for the Ryanair. That lad is some tool. Some serious tool. Soft ground and pace-pressing Un De Sceaux will be optimal for him and he's probably the horse I'm most looking forward to seeing, Oxford Blu aside.
And so to Friday. We have two realistic chances to save a losing week here, the Triumph and Gold Cup. But both look seriously competitive this year. In the Triumph, I backed Apple's Shakira in January, at 7/2. Since then a number of Irish horses have staked a claim, and so too has Redicean with a fine effort in the Adonis. But I like the Henderson filly and I don't think we've seen the best of her yet. I felt her Trials Day success was under-rated: she was out of her ground on testing terrain, against a decent enough stick, and finished well on top by the line. Not flashy but highly effective. She's still 10/3 in a place and has a favourite's chance (whatever the hell that means).
And I've had a swipe at the first two in the Spring Hurdle from Ireland. Not sure which of the pair will come out on top next time, but suspect it might be Gordon Elliott's Farclas. Having backed them at 9's and 12's, they're 8/1 each of two now. Willie has a number still engaged in the race, including Eoline Jolie, a mare at whom I blindly hurled a tenner at 33's in December. She's not run since moving to Mullins, and it was a surprise to see the entry kept alive. I doubt she'll run, still less be good enough after such a long layoff, but it remains to be seen which of his quintet take up the engagement.
I'm against Redicean in spite of his tidy victory at Kempton. That's not to say he won't win (natch), just that I'd question the strength of the form.
In the County Hurdle, a miracle punting race if ever there was one, I missed the boat on Flying Tiger having flagged the race as a likely target as early as December on the tweet machine. His chance is respected, along with about a thousand others, but I felt there might be a case for taking an absolute flyer with the horse who ran second to the Tiger in the Fred Winter, Divin Bere. I backed him at 50's and he's weighted to reverse form with Flying Tiger. But the ground could be pretty soft by Friday and that's not at all in his favour, sadly. Might have been a smart call had the precipitation stayed away.
And so to the Gold Cup, a wide open looking heat where they'll likely go 5/1 the field next Friday morning. I love Might Bite. I mean, sure, he's a mentalist, but what ability he has to roll across to the stands and sign a few autographs before breaking Whisper's heart in an RSA. The fact is that, errant courses and last fence horlickses aside, no horse has laid a glove on Might Bite since November 2016. Yes, you have to accept that some weird sh!t could happen when you really don't want it to if you back him. But he's rock solid to give a big run for your money. I haven't backed him, but I will do when the 5's pops up Friday week.
What I have backed is Road To Respect at 12's and 10's (currently 10/1). He's been highly progressive for over a year now and, if it wasn't going to be wet come Gold Cup day, I'd give him an excellent each way chance. He's a strong stayer, upwardly mobile as I've said, and comes here a fresh horse having dodged that hard race at the Dublin Festival. But he's probably a stone less of a man on soft...
My other tickle was/is Anibale Fly, who did run in that Dublin Festival race. Not only that but he took a heavy fall when fired into the second last by a high profile jockey whose biggest fan I am not. If the Fly does show up at Chelto, he hopefully be won't be ridden by that pilot, but irrespective of that he too wouldn't want it deep.
It could be Might Bite to save the week. There's a slightly terrifying prospect!