WITH THE PRESENCE of three odds-on shots on the opening day of the festival it’s not difficult to find some likely winners.
But it may pay to look beyond the obvious for some value propositions.
The festival opener, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, has an extremely open look to it this year.
There is no outstanding candidate this time around and current favourite Darlan is priced more by reputation at 11/2 than what he has achieved on the racetrack.
Midnight Game had been very impressive when steaming past Dylan Ross last time out, but his trainer has been dissatisfied by his recent work and his intended partner, Davy Russell, now opts for Trifolium instead. At 12/1 the latter now rates as an attractive bet, but the real value could lie with the aforementioned Dylan Ross.
His seasonal form figures of 12222 point to a high level of consistency, but his detractors will also say they highlight a questionable attitude. While this may be the case, it could prove that what he really needs is a championship pace to come off.
He has travelled supremely through his races, without always quite being able to accelerate past in the final few hundred yards. In this respect he is reminiscent of past festival winners Forpaddydeplasterer and Sizing Europe. Those horses often proved frustrating to follow during the winter months in small runner affairs in Ireland, but came alive in Prestbury Park with good ground and a strong pace.
It may well be that Dylan Ross is soft in a battle and just not quite up to the top level, but he has been seriously underestimated at 40/1 considering a line through Sous Les Cieux suggests he could have the beating of third favourite Galileo’s Choice.
In the Arkle, Sprinter Sacre hasn’t put a foot wrong all season – but still looks short enough in the betting at around 10/11.
Last year he faded badly behind Al Ferof coming up the hill, and although the move to larger obstacles and a subsequent breathing operation may turn that form around, it may be safer to stick with his past conqueror. Ruby Walsh’s mount ran a fine race in third behind Somersby in an Ascot Grade One last time out, is sure to be suited by a fast pace and will love the return to the course.
Sprinter Sacre may prove to be as good as the hype suggests (Barry Geraghty compared him favourably to the great Moscow Flyer recently), but the last time we saw him come under pressure he wilted and no amount of facile victories in the mean time can compensate for that given his short price. He often pulls hard, and it may be that he won’t leave himself enough energy to get up the hill. It is noteworthy that all his winning has been done on flat tracks.
Hurricane Fly looks bomb-proof in the Champion Hurdle, but not everyone will be keen to wade in on a 10/11 shot. A better betting proposition may be his stable companion Zaidpour.
The six-year-old has enjoyed an unbeaten if low-key season, taking four soft ground victories over a variety of trips in Ireland – including a hat-trick of Grade Twos.
Trainer Willie Mullins reported that the gelding lost his action in the second part of last season, and his low-key preparation has given the horse the time and confidence he has needed to come back to his best.
While he would prefer softer ground and a longer trip, he is far less exposed than some of his rivals and he fits in with the profile of many recent winners. His form cannot compare with Hurricane Fly, but there is no reason why he can’t grab a place if they go off quick enough. Given he is rated the same as Oscar Wells, there is no reason why he should be almost treble the price at 33/1.
Willie Mullins overseas a day on the gallops yesterday. / ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Elsewhere on the card, the closing race may go the way of the Irish as well in the shape of Jim Dreaper’s runner, Harspsy Cord. The six-year-old is far less exposed than most of the runners with only seven runs under his belt, and his owner Alan Potts rarely sends runners to Cheltenham unless they strong place claims at least.
The last time he encountered ground this good he ran as if something was amiss, but his sire Accordion has a good record at the festival and there is every chance he will improve over fences after building on his second behind Soll with a gutsy victory in Gowran.
Dylan Ross 1 pt e/w @ 40/1 best priced
Al Ferof 2 pts win @ 10/3 best priced
Zaidpour 1 pt e/w @ 33/1 generally
Harpsy Cord 1 pt win @ 25/1 best priced