Review of Cheltenham Festival ante-post tips – half term report

With only 6 weeks to go until the great roar goes up it’s time to take a look at how the ante-post portfolio is shaping up.

Peddlers Cross – Champion Hurdle
Peddlers Cross confirmed he is a serious contender for the Champion Hurdle when making his seasonal reappearance at Newbury in November in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. In beating Binocular 6 lengths into third he showed further progress and it won’t be a shock if he finishes in front of that horse again at Cheltenham. It was great to watch Peddlers Cross go about his business. He travels without too much effort, seems to be able to handle a change in pace and jumps slickly. He has yet taste defeat in his 7 runs so who knows how good he is?

Sadly, we were denied further evidence with the abandonment of Haydock last Saturday and it seems likely that he will run next in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las this Saturday. In any event we should get a chance to see him on Saturday as an alternative engagement is the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown, where he could meet Binocular again.

Binocular looked very good at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle and was promptly made favourite for the Champion. However, you can’t say he’s consistent. Supporters might like to check the form book for 2008/2009. In a small field at Ascot in November he looked devastating and went to Cheltenham as the 6/4 fav only to finish third to Punjabi. It maybe that Nicky Henderson has got the key to him now but even at this best it’s entirely possible that Peddlers Cross will beat him.

Hurricane Fly has looked extremely classy in Ireland and moved like a well oiled machine but he’s been beating up the same opposition in small fields. Has he got what it takes to motor up a big hill, on the big stage in a big field? I couldn’t find all the info to prove it but I have a feeling that offspring of Montjeu have never won a Grade 1 at Cheltenham and in any event they certainly have a poor record.

The Champion Hurdle is a really competitive race and could be the highlight of the week, leave alone the opening day.

Advised at 14/1 Peddlers Cross is now a general 11/2 chance. Hopefully, you’re on at the price but I think there’s value at 11/2. He could well be shorter by tea time on Friday.

Gauvain – Queen Mother Champion Chase
I put Gauvain up following his win in the Sinbad Testimonial 2010/2011 Chase at the Paddy Power Open Meeting where he beat the 2010 Queen Mother 2nd Forpadydeplasterer. Back at Cheltenham on his next outing in the Tingle Creek in December he finished 5th behind Master Minded. The trainer Nick Williams put this disappointing run to an interrupted preparation due to the snow. The previous win came after a 576 day absence so perhaps the ‘bounce factor’ had an impact too. In this next run at Ascot in the Victor Chandler, once again he finished 5th behind Master Minded. This time it was hard to find an explanation and perhaps his early season win at Cheltenham wasn’t as good as it first appeared.

Advised at 25/1 Gauvain can now be backed at twice that price. It’s not known whether another run is planned before Cheltenham where he also holds an entry in the Ryanair. If he turns up in the Queen Mother without and it’s a small field then 50/1 might be worth a dabble but at this stage I wouldn’t recommend backing him.

Grands Crus – World Hurdle
After two good wins in handicap company at Cheltenham and Haydock in November, Grands Crus returned to Prestbury Park yesterday to contest the Cleeve Hurdle, traditionally a good trial for the World Hurdle. His display yesterday can truly be described as impressive. Switched off early on he made steady progress when asked with about half a mile to go and simply sliced through the field to canter up the hill as he liked. The winning margin was 10 lengths but it could have been a lot more. The field was strong and Grands Crus could really serve it up to Big Bucks on the Thursday of Cheltenham Festival week in what will be a race to savour. It was also encouraging to see him step up in class on ground that was firmer than he usually encounters. David Pipe reported this morning that the horse has come out of his race well and it’s all systems go for the World Hurdle.

Grands Crus was advised at 12/1 and is now 3/1 generally so take a bow if you’re on at the double figure price. In what seems to be a 2 horse race even 3/1 could be argued as value given the nature of this performance yesterday. However, there is no each way juice in the price and there’s still 44 days to go so I wouldn’t recommend a bet until the day.

Smad Place – Triumph Hurdle
Following a poor gallop and subsequent poor scope last weekend trainer Alan King didn’t confirm Smad Place’s entry in the Triumph Hurdle Trial race yesterday at Cheltenham. Whilst on the face of it this is disappointing, there is time for the horse to recover and to have a prep run which is the intention. Furthermore, it appears that Smad Place’s performance at Chepstow was even more meritorious than first thought. Alan King stated this week, “In hindsight, he was probably not himself when he got beaten in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow next time, so, in the circumstances, he has produced some performance there.”

When putting up Smad Place at 12/1 I committed the school boy error of not posting the best price. Ladbrokes were in fact offering 14/1 and they’ve since be joined by Stan James in doing so. Therefore, I suggest you bag the 14/1 for the reasons stated in the original post and following the encouragement from Alan King above.

Midnight Chase – Gold Cup
Neil Mulholland’s Midnight Chase hasn’t run since I put him up on Christmas Day but it was always the intention that his next run would be in the Gold Cup. All is well with the horse as his trainer confirmed earlier this month, “We’re happy with him, he looks superb and is very well in his coat. He looks great.”

Long Run tool the King George at Kempton Park on 15 January with Kauto Star disappointing in third. It was subsequently discovered that he was suffering from an infection. As stated in the original post no 11 year old has won the Gold Cup for nearly 50 years and I just can’t see Kauto doing it. As for Long Run the evidence suggests he’s just not a Cheltenham horse.

It’s encouraging that even though he’s not run Midnight Chase is now into a best price 20/1 having been advised at 25/1. He is value at that price and I can see him starting at a shorter price still on the big day.

With the exception of Gauvain the portfolio is in good shape. If you want to get involved with any of the selections at this stage I’d suggest that Smad Place is the best option with Grands Crus the most likely winner. I’ll be posting tips for the RSA Chase and at least one more race, possibly two. My best bet (NAP) of the Cheltenham Festival is yet to come. If you’d followed all my tips since I launched JP Festival in 2007 you’d be 27 points up to 1 point each way stakes. If you’re not already signed up please subscribe to my weekly newsletter (out every Monday) and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for Festival updated each and every day.