We're now less than three weeks away from the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, and it is time to start ramping up the Fez-related content here on geegeez.co.uk.
To kick things off, allow me to share my ante post portfolio as it stands right now. It's a little sparser than has been the case in recent years, and perhaps I'm a little less confident about the plays than in recent history, too: truth is, life (family, geegeez, HBF, syndicate horses) keeps getting in the way. And, on balance, I like that, so no dramas or complaints from my side.
I've included staking as well as selections so, as always, take that in the context that some will bet more, some will bet less, and that bet size is not really the point: we all operate in our zone and this just happens to be mine. Make sense? Good, let's crack on.
Cilaos Emery £20 e/w 13.08/1 William Hill
A 'boosted' price from Hills, up from 12/1, hence the quirky number. This Willie Mullins inmate was hugely impressive in brushing aside subsequent facile scorer Duc Des Genievres amongst others on his first start for more than a year. The third and fourth have won since, and the second replicated that effort on his next start, giving the form a solid look. Fifth in the 2017 Supreme was followed by a win in the G1 Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle, and a hurdle rating in the 150's puts him right in the mix for the Arkle.
Alas, he picked up a knock schooling at Navan the other day, and is now an injury doubt for Cheltenham. In any case, a single race over fences is probably sub-optimal. Current top price 'all in run or not' - 10/1
Novices' Handicap Chase
Tower Bridge £25 e/w 20/1 NRNB bet365
I've no idea really why I have an ante post bet in a handicap, still less the novices' handicap chase, but I have. And it looks over-staked to boot. At least the non-runner no bet concession offers me the consolation of a run or a refund.
In fairness, this lad, who was a Grade 1 scorer at the Dublin Festival this time last year before running a close fifth in the Albert Bartlett, ran a cracking trial when never really put into the race behind Duc Des Genievres last time. It looks as though he'll contest a handicap rather than a Graded chase at Cheltenham, though perhaps the Kim Muir's extended trip will be the slot he lands in. If that's the case, it's money back and no harm done; he should get competitive in whichever handicap he contests. Current top price NRNB - 20/1
Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Acey Milan £20 e/w 50/1 Unibet
A bit of a daft loyalty bet, I suppose. He has the class to contest this on his form from last year, where he was the best British bumper horse of the season. But injuries and illness this year mean he's not had a chance to show his true ability. A welcome win last time over two miles at Plumpton was not in the style of a horse harbouring Festival aspirations, but he rallied well from the turn in there and will be very hard to beat off an opening mark of just 127 when upped in trip. But that won't be at the Festival, sadly. No NRNB here so these quids look spent. Current top price - not quoted
Santini £200 win 9/2 bet365
That's more like it. Or it was until equine flu and vaccinations got in the way of his intended prep in the Reynoldstown at Ascot. Prior to that little episode, I was feeling very smug with the inflated price taken about a horse whose chance was, to my eye at least, significantly enhanced by an outpaced-but-staying-on-best-of-all three length third in the Feltham on Boxing Day. The winner of that race has notoriously never won the RSA, though a number of beaten horses - including former Seven Barrows resident and Gold Cup winner, Bobs Worth - have turned defeat there into RSA victory.
The much stiffer test at Cheltenham will be right up Santini's street and I think he has a very good chance. Well, I did until he missed his prep. He'll presumably have a spin round Kempton at the weekend, but it's not the same thing, is it? Current top price - 3/1
JLT Novices' Chase
Kalashnikov £25 win 16/1 Skybet
A top novice hurdler on wet ground last year, I took a bit of a punt on this fellow for the intermediate novice chase at the Fez this time around. He's not looked a natural so far, but that could conceivably be down to being out of his comfort zone at the speed the best horses race over two miles. Moreover, I'd certainly forgive his Sandown effort where the ground was filthy tacky and he didn't look to jump out of it at all.
That's a lot of excuses for a horse who probably wants a wet March and who probably won't get it; and who will probably go the short route even though he's demonstrated he likely doesn't have the pace for it. In my view, this is the right race for him but, even then, whether he's good enough is another matter entirely. Current top price - 18/1
Winter Escape £50 e/w 12/1 NRNB Skybet / £10 win 20/1 NRNB Paddy Power
I really liked this fellow when he won a deep Grade 3 at Punchestown last month, but he was sub-par at Leopardstown earlier this month. It turned out he broke a blood vessel there, which probably means he's not going to the Festival. I'd bet him NRNB on the basis that a good run at Leopardstown would book his ticket while a poor one would probably rule him out, and that looks a rare moment of prudence in a fairly trigger-happy portfolio overall.
Carlo Biraghi £25 e/w 16/1 NRNB bet365
I wanted to back Fakir after his Chelto romp, but didn't. Good job as talk is that he's Supreme-bound. I was tempted by Sir Erec but not by the top price of 6/4. And so I landed on this wildly impressive 22-runner maiden hurdle winner with more than a touch of class as an each way alternative. In truth, I didn't think he could beat a concert pitch Sir Erec, so I'm kind of happy (with apologies to connections of course) that he has been held up in his preparations and may now be saved for the flat. Money back, no damage done. Thank the Lord for run or refund! Current top price - not quoted.
Native River £200 e/w 9/2 NRNB bet365
I placed this bet on the morning of the Galmoy Hurdle, where I thought Presenting Percy might be undercooked or unimpressive. In fact, he was probably both, but that didn't stop Pat Kelly's not-jumped-a-fence-in-public-this-campaign second season chaser from shortening up for the Blue Riband. Meanwhile, Colin Tizzard's reigning champ has eased out to 6/1 in a place (all in, run or not).
He had a hard race in the Gold Cup last year, there's little doubt about that. But he's the wrong price here in a race that lacks the depth the market currently suggests, in my view at least. I'll expound upon that in a full preview next week but, for now, know that Kempton ain't Native's track - he's been outpaced on both visits there - and know that running Bristol De Mai to four lengths around Haydock probably constitutes a rating of about 210 in the microcosm of that inexplicably idiosyncratic track.
Native River has had a quiet campaign geared towards this race, and I think he's a very solid each way play indeed, as evidenced by comfortably my biggest ante post stab of the meeting. I just wish I had a bigger price about him! Current top price - 11/2 NRNB
Anibale Fly £50 e/w 33/1 Black Type
Another over-staked wager, this should have been £25 e/w. But I really like this horse. I thought he was a tad conservatively ridden last year when third in the Gold Cup, though it's possible - probable, perhaps - that he was outpaced and ran on. He ran a taking prep behind Monalee over a mile-too-short two and a half mile trip in the Red Mills Chase and has only eight lengths to find with Native River on last year's Gold Cup form.
The worry is that the GC is a prep for the GN - Grand National - but that's bonkers if you have a horse potentially good enough to win the former. There's something of Synchronised, JP McManus's 2012 Gold Cup winner, about Anibale Fly: obviously the green and gold livery but also the doughty staying nature of their run styles. Synchronised was somewhat Jim Furyk in his jumping style whereas Anibale Fly is a tad more 'trad' with his athleticism, and in a race full of if's and but's he comes to the party dressed as himself and ready to roll. He's still a fair price, I think. Current top price - 25/1 NRNB
Hazel Hill £8 win 25/1 Paddy Power / 80p win 25/1 Betfair / £9.70 e/w 12/1 bet365
A weird race fittingly couched in my portfolio with some weirdly staked bets. 25/1 was a rick, plain and simple, after Hazel Hill demolished a good class field of hunters at Warwick last month, and I got all I could, which wasn't very much at all as you can see. He'd previously won his two other hunter chases by a similarly wide margin and, while he may not have the class of some of the ex-Rules horses, he is a beast at the top of his game.
If I'm in desperate need of a draw by this point on Friday - I'll be fairly well oiled by then - perhaps this chap will get back 350-odd notes. But, in truth, it's a pig in a poke of a pot where you need to be lucky as much as good. Current top price - 7/1 NRNB
That's the story so far. For those who prefer spreadsheets, feast your eyes on the tale of the tape / tale of woe* (*delete on 16th March as applicable) below. There will be many more wagers to strike, and we'll start the big race previews next week: they're overdue! [Click on the image to view a bigger version]