The purpose of Antepost betting is to get ahead of the market. To back something at a double digit price months before the race only to see your punt go off the 7/4 favourite.
The build up to this year’s Cheltenham Festival has been one of the most puzzling in recent seasons. This has most likely caused a large number of Antepost wagers to be thrown in the bin or simply look beyond hope.
This does appear as good a time as any to reflect on the current state of play. After the passing of the Dublin Racing Festival, we’re unlikely to see too many contenders run again. It appears pertinent to take advantage of bet365 offering money back for non-runners in the top races. Here’s five runners whom I believe could offer some value for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. Be sure to check out our tips and analysis over the coming days, as well as our Free Bets.
The absence of Buveur D’Air and Espoir D’Allen have conspired to create one of the most open, and weakest, Champion Hurdles ever. The market is headed by two mares, Epatante (5/2) and Honeysuckle (7/2).
Bookmakers and punters alike are looking for the next Buveur D’Air, and Epatante fits the bill given her connections. Her dismal effort in the Mares’ Novices’ last term will live long in the memory for me. Her two wins this term have been impressive, but the first came from a mark of just 137 and she hardly beat much of note in the Christmas Hurdle.
Henry De Bromhead’s Honeysuckle would rank the one to beat, if only she hadn’t been quite so ordinary on Saturday returned to two-miles. She only just squeaked home from the 146 rated Darver Star.
The one who makes most appeal is SALDIER (6/1). He’s achieved plenty in his short career, signing off his juvenile campaign with an impressive win at Punchestown. He was going slightly better than Espoir D’Allen when taking a heavy fall in November 2018.
The outsider of Mullins’ three in the Morgiana on his first start for 371 days, he came with a strong run to score with his ears pricked. The fourth won a Grade One next time and whilst Petit Mouchoir filling the second doesn’t suggest the form is that strong, the grey has placed at the highest level twice since.
He didn’t come out of the Morgiana as Mullins would have liked, forcing him to miss a few entries. Recent stable vibes have been good though, suggesting he’ll make his engagement at Cheltenham. Running him fresh is of no concern, and the break has caused bookmakers to push his price out. This only serves to enhance his appeal.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
There’s little between the three at the head of the market, with Defi Du Seuil (7/4) just edging favouritism over Altior (5/2) and CHACUN POUR SOI (5/2).
Despite being a dual winner, Altior makes limited appeal. He’s beaten little of note in both renewals and was too slow, rather than a non-stayer, when losing to Cyrname. His troubled preparation since only further reduces his claims.
A recommendation for Defi Du Seuil looked the most likely outcome on first glance. He’s impressed this term, and his record of six from eight at Cheltenham is hugely attractive.
The form of those three wins doesn’t hold up to much though. He received weight from Politologue on his return and whilst admirable, Un De Sceaux, whom he’s beaten twice since, is hardly the force of old. A peak RPR of 171 suggests he still has to find improvement, and after nine chase starts, I’d like him to have achieved more on figures.
Going back to May, he was readily put in his place by Chacun Pour Soi. That came on just his second start over fences for Willie Mullins. Defeat to A Plus Tard in December was disappointing, but many from the yard have come on for their first run.
That was evident when the eight-year-old landed the Dublin Chase on Saturday, overcoming stablemate Min. That and his profile implies that there’s plenty more to come from him. Available at slightly bigger odds than Defi, he’s the one for me.
Likely detractors from the Champion Chase could see a cracking contest emerge here. Min (3/1) rightly heads the market. He boasts an impressive record of 12111 over the trip, with his career best coming over two-miles-four at Aintree in April. He’s done little wrong since, winning the John Durkan on his return before chasing home Chacun Pour Soi.
Ireland also have strong claims with De Bromhead’s A Plus Tard (4/1). He bolted up in the Close Brothers in 2019 and the form of his recent win from Chacun looks all the better now. Given the way he went on at the finish, he’s only going to improve for the return to two-miles-four.
Last year’s winner Frodon (6/1) is below his peak this term. Held twice in the autumn, he only just squeaked home from Keeper Hill at Kempton. With Aso filling second place in last year’s contest, he’s likely to face a sterner test this year as well.
The one whom I’m going to chance is, in light of the NRNB, is CYRNAME (8/1). His recent assignment at Kempton suggests connections are willing to race him away from Ascot. Surely they’d be remiss if they didn’t send Britain’s highest rated chaser to the Cheltenham Festival.
There’s been a long held view that he has to go right handed. However there’s been little evidence of that recently, and his two runs left-handed came when he was far from the finished article. Additionally, he even jumped left under pressure in the King George last time. That was a case of him not staying, rather than being unsuited to any other venue than Ascot.
If we could guarantee that Cyrname would give his true running, he’d be odds on. He’s the highest rated horse in training and put Altior well in his place. With bookmakers offering as short as 5/2 for Altior for the Champion Chase, 8/1 looks far too big for Cyrname. A confidence booster in the Ascot Chase on the 15th February could set him up nicely for the Ryanair, which he clearly has the class to win.
For many of you, Paisley Park (8/11) is the best bet of the Festival. I’m less than convinced that he’s at his best this term though. He only beat the veteran Thistlecrack by a length on his return, and the next three behind him in the Cleeve were rated just 156, 140 and 154. RPRs confirm the suspicion, with figures of 161 and 162 suggesting he’s close to ten pounds below his peak.
Of the two at the head of the market, I’d prefer Benie Des Dieux (5/2). She impressed when winning the Galmoy, her eighth win from nine starts for Mullins. She’s far from convinced to line up though, and despite that, there’s little value in her current price.
In fact, it’s one of those who chased Paisley Park home in the Cleeve that I’ll be chancing. SUMMERVILLE BOY (7/1) fell in a bit of a hole after winning the 2018 Supreme. He did end last year with an encouraging effort behind Buveur D’Air at Punchestown and he showed the benefit of a wind op when scoring on his chase debut in November.
A fall in a novice Grade One the following month led to a rethink, with connections stepping him up in trip and returning him to hurdles on New Year’s Day. He made all in gutsy fashion there, finding plenty in the closing stages over two-miles-four.
A step up to three-miles looked the obvious call, and he performed with credit behind Paisley Park over course and distance. He again made the running, appearing to have Paisley Park in trouble coming to the last. The jolly showed his usual grit and determination, scoring by a length. There was plenty to like about the way Summerville Boy plugged on there despite being headed though.
With that coming on his first ever run over three-miles, he can be expected to find further improvement next time. He’s far from likely to reverse the running with Paisley Park, but at the prices, Tom George’s charge gets the vote.
Al Boum Photo (4/1) ended the Mullins’ hoodoo last year. His return at Tramore suggests he’s as good as ever and he’s the rightful favourite. I’m not convinced he won the strongest Gold Cup last year though and he was put in his place by Kemboy (6/1) in May.
His stablemate has been turned twice this winter. He reduced arrears with Delta Work (4/1) by two-lengths on their Savills’ running in the recent Irish Gold Cup. More is required though, and both stamina and his jumping are concerns he’s yet to fully answer. Gigginstown’s contender has battled well to score twice this term, but I don’t think he’s the best the Irish have to offer.
Clan Des Obeaux (6/1) is another who’s yet to convince he stays. Lostintranslation (7/1) could yet win a Gold Cup despite his Kempton no-show, but I think he has more to prove than his current odds suggest. The same applies to Santini (5/1) who only just scraped home in November and benefited from a mistake by Bristol De Mai when scoring last time.
With those at the head of the market having some convincing to do, I’m siding with NATIVE RIVER (12/1), whose reappearance win at Aintree was his best effort since landing the 2018 Gold Cup. His performance at Cheltenham was one of the gutsiest performances you’re ever likely to see, with his jumping holding up to the unique test of Prestbury Park.
It’s best not to forget that he was sent off just 6/1 for the 2019 edition despite losing both previous seasonal starts. He was only fourth there, but he was unable to give his true running on account of the way the race panned out and the good ground.
The Cheltenham grounds’ staff have said that they will not allow ‘good’ to be in the going description for the Festival. A soft ground Gold Cup is perfect for Colin Tizzard’s ten-year-old, and his recent win at Aintree suggests that the fire still burns bright in the old boy.