HENNESSY GOLD CUP, Newbury, 26 November 2016
Last season’s ante post picks were plagued by issues and setbacks and we got only a few glimpses of what might have been, especially with the Rebecca Curtis pair Irish Cavalier and O’FAOLAIN’S BOY.
O’Faolain’s Boy is lurking on quite an attractive mark to kick off this season and 25/1 for the Hennessy Gold Cup is a very fair price for this hugely talented – if fragile – horse. The Hennessy is his early season target and off 151 he’s a big player.
Irish Cavalier is only seven and there is likely more to come from him but expect connections to feel their way regarding trip. My hunch is he’ll be best at two and half miles and he could be a Ryanair Chase prospect.
Sean's selection: O’FAOLAIN’S BOY 25/1 (Bet Victor, Paddy Power, Sky Bet, StanJames)
SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES' HURDLE, Cheltenham, 14 March 2017
Elsewhere, the vibes around JENKINS are very strong this season. Nicky Henderson ran the horse only twice in bumpers. An easy win at Newbury was followed by a shock defeat when odds-on for the Goffs Land Rover bumper at the Punchestown Festival.
Backing horses for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at this early stage is not normally my cup of tea but the impression that this horse made on debut, combined with the expert handling he will receive from Henderson, means that I am making an exception here. 20/1 is a price I’m happy to lock now.
Sean's selection: JENKINS 25/1 (William Hill), 20/1 (general)
CHAMPION HURDLE, Cheltenham, 14 March 2017
The other Cheltenham Festival race that I like the shape of currently is the Champion Hurdle. Annie Power and Faugheen are both capable of winning this but are unlikely to take each other on and don’t need to be backed at this long range stage.
Apple's Jade will only be a five-year-old come March and looks up against it, which brings us to YANWORTH. His defeat in the Neptune was a blow to many punters and to trainer Alan King but I didn’t reckon it as big a setback as some seem to have.
The way the race panned out he was asked an awful lot and there has to be a suspicion that the yard were just not as strong in March last season, as they had been in a fabulous earlier part of the campaign.
All things considered it was a very fair effort and at his best this horse is scintillatingly good. He hurdles well, has a formidable engine, stays well up to two and a half and is handled by one of the best trainers around. He'll do for me at 16/1.
He is due to start off in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot in November over just shy of two and a half miles. That's a perfect starting point for a Champion Hurdle campaign.Sean's selection: YANWORTH 16/1 (general)
RSA CHASE & JLT NOVICES' CHASE, Cheltenham, 15 March 2017 & 16 March 2017, respectively
One of my favourite novice hurdlers to follow last season was Barters Hill and I remain a huge fan of his. He’s going straight over fences this term. His winning run over timber came to an end in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival.
Personally, I always favoured the Neptune for him. I know he stays well but his style of racing can deceive. He has bags of class and speed too. I think most people would be interested in him as a long-range RSA Chase hope and that may well be the route they go but for me he makes even more appeal as a 2 ½ mile chaser this term.
I will back him for the JLT and for the RSA. He and Altior are very different types but they achieved similar standards over the course of the season and both are exciting chasing prospects. Altior is only 3/1 for the Arkle though, whereas Ben Pauling’s star is several times that price for the longer novice prizes.
Sean's selections: BARTERS HILL 20/1 (RSA) (general) and 25/1 (JLT) (Betfair, bet365, StanJames), 20/1 (general)
WORLD HURDLE, Cheltenham, 16 March 2017
One novice hurdler who I confess was not especially on my radar last season is BALLYOPTIC. His defeat of Bellshill at Aintree marks him out as genuinely top class however. Jumping will be his game in time but for now he is staying over hurdles and the World Hurdle is the campaign plan.
That market does appear to have strength in-depth but several of those quoted are far from certain to be targeted at the race so 25/1 looks fair.
Sean's selection: BALLYOPTIC 25/1 (Betfair, Sky Bet, William Hill), 20/1 (general)
TIMICO CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP, Cheltenham, 17 March 2017
I was keen to back BLAKLION for the Hennessy, for which he’s currently a 16/1 shot. Having spoken with Nigel Twiston-Davies though, the Charlie Hall is his first aim and that will dictate where they go next.
Blaklion is a horse I’m keen to keep onside though this season. He boasts a high level of hurdling form and progressed well to take the RSA Chase at the Festival last season. He’s in great nick I’m assured and I think he is being somewhat underestimated in markets like the Cheltenham Gold Cup and King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.
The general 33/1 for the Gold Cup is worth taking at this early stage. A big run in the Charlie Hall Chase, where he’s likely to run into some of the top staying chasers around, will see those odds tumble.
The Gold Cup market has a tempting shape to it at the moment with question marks over several prominent runners. Thistlecrack heads many lists but is obviously a novice with no proven chasing record. Vautour is exciting but only actually managed to win two races last season and is unproven at the trip.
Don Cossack is the reigning champ but on the comeback trail following injury. Ditto Coneygree. Cue Card is a super star but not getting any younger. Douvan is all class but stamina is an unknown. Djakadam has run well in the race but not well enough to win.
All of which makes it worth taking an early view on a potential second season improver and Blaklion is that pick for me.
Sean's selection: BLAKLION 33/1 (bet365, Coral, StanJames, William Hill)