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Once again this year I shall be nominating some horses for the season ahead. A Festival destination will help define each selection but hopefully there will be other chances to back these horses during the season. Road To Respect was our flag bearer last season, giving us a good run for out money in the Gold Cup having been nominated for that at 50/1 but he also picked up a couple of good races at nice prices along the way.
Before we begin though we really must talk about Samcro. One of last season’s star novice hurdlers, he is quoted for everything from the Champion Hurdle to the Gold Cup and different firms are taking dramatically differing views of his likely targets.
The team at Paddy Power/Betfair seem confident he’s staying over hurdles, as they are comfortably top price about all likely chasing targets. They may well be right. Gigginstown have yet to win a Champion Hurdle and they may see this boy as their ticket to that particular winner’s enclosure. He’s a top price of 4/1 for the Champion Hurdle and that would make no appeal to me, even if I knew that was his target. Samcro has shown admirable agility for such a big horse but the truth is he lacks the natural hurdling fluency that is required to be a champion over timber. Champion hurdlers, just like their human equivalents, get from one side of the obstacle to the other on one stride and with minimal adjustment. He’s never really done that, so I’m happy to ignore him as a potential Champion Hurdle bet.
The problem is, will connections send him chasing? The lack of a public decision on this is puzzling to me. Chasing is what Samcro is for. It’s what he was bred for, what he was bought for and what – to my mind – he should be trained for. The 12/1 that Paddy Power and Betfair offer for the Arkle looks hugely tempting on the face of it but my instinct is to leave this horse alone altogether. I watched the video of his point to point win and whilst that is obviously a nursery slopes performance, it wasn’t altogether encouraging viewing. He has a phenomenal engine and I hope we will see his enormous potential fulfilled but I don’t think I want to bet on that.
CHAMPION HURDLE DIVISION
Buveur d’Air is a top price of 7/2 to retain his crown. That’s very fair. Last season’s novices look a fairly evenly matched bunch in terms of raw ability. Tom George has already confirmed a Champion Hurdle campaign for Summerville Boy and it’s not hard to see him continuing to progress and get more professional. It’s hard though to argue that he’s currently over-priced.
I’m not normally a fan of getting involved with five year old contenders in this division. I did make an exception for Katchit in this column many years ago and I am willing to make another exception this year. Nicky Henderson’s WE HAVE A DREAM missed the Festival last year due to a slight bug but roared home at Aintree with what may have been the best juvenile hurdle form of the season. His owners have a track record of running five-year olds in the Champion Hurdle and with some success (Footpad 4th, Top Notch 5th, Sceau Royal 6th) over the last few seasons. He’s available at 20/1 and in a year that lacks obvious contenders that looks very good given his connections sporting approach and the fact he’s trained by a genius.
STAYING HURDLE DIVISION
SAM SPINNER was ultimately disappointing in the second half of last season. He could have been ridden more positively at Cheltenham but there was no obvious excuse of his defeat at Aintree. Every horse has his price however and quotes of up to 33/1 for the 2019 Stayers' Hurdle are simply far too big. Jedd O’Keeffe reports the horse has thrived on his break and looks in great shape for the season ahead. He’s staying over hurdles with a defence of his Long Walk crown one of this first priorities.
Identity Thief is an enigma of a horse. He has enormous ability but sometimes looks scared of his own shadow. He showed in the Champion Hurdle that the class is still there and I was delighted to see him pick up a Grade 1 success over a longer trip at Aintree. I’d assume that longer distances may be the plan but he’s a difficult horse to rely on. He’s well worth keeping on side though on those occasions where the market under rates him.
I’m really looking forward to seeing Kalashnikov over fences this season and the vibes from trainer Amy Murphy have been positive. He is already quoted at single figure prices though for the Arkle and that makes him easy to leave for now.
Mengli Khan looks a chaser in the making but he’s only five currently so there may be no rush to take him over the bigger obstacles. The balance of his hurdle form could be stronger too in order to consider him as an ante post Arkle chance. On the plus side there is scope for him to improve over fences and at 20/1 he is also shortlist material for inclusion in Arkle portfolios.
One horse that does stand out as over priced to my mind, and one which only some firms are quoting here, is LALOR. Kayleigh Wollacott’s stable star boasts bumper and hurdle form that puts him right in the mix for top novice chasing honours. The trainer has suggested the horse may prove more of a natural over fences and he is an easy ante post pick at a price which seems to underestimate his ability.
Regular readers of this piece will know that my favoured Gold Cup approach is to look to the new generation of chasers in this market and that I do like Arkle horses as future Gold Cup contenders. Footpad, if he stretches out in trip would be an obvious candidate. He oozes class, jumps for fun and may be open to improvement on the stellar heights he reached last season. There has to be a doubt though that staying will be his game. 16/1 for the Gold Cup is however more tempting than 4/1 for the Champion Chase.
I was surprised to hear Henry de Bromhead musing on At The Races recently that maybe MONALEE would have been better off in the JLT than the RSA at last season’s Festival. I thought Monalee ran a stormer in the RSA and, given his previous placed form in the Albert Bartlett, stamina rather than speed is one of his strengths. He hasn’t always jumped brilliantly but there is no better man than de Bromhead to work on him in that department. I know that Presenting Percy beat him well in the RSA but I still think Monalee is worth including at more than three times the price of the Kelly horse.
Road To Respect did us proud last term and I can see him having another good campaign. Some will feel that the soft ground was the reason for him coming up a little short in the Gold Cup. I’m not convinced that’s true. Sean Flanagan gave the horse an absolute peach, covered the minimum ground and did everything he could to get the horse home and he still flattened out late on. My hunch is that the Gold Cup trip is just beyond him. I think the King George is up his street but he’s presumably likely to try to retain his crown back in Ireland in the Christmas Chase. Wherever he runs I’ll continue to respect him, he’s a very good horse indeed.
Sean Boyce's ante-post bets:
LALOR (33-1 Betfair Sportsbook, Betway, Paddy Power)
WE HAVE A DREAM (20-1 general)
SAM SPINNER (33-1 William Hill, Betfred, Totesport)
CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
MONALEE (33-1 general)