Five longshots to put in the ante-post portfolio for National Hunt’s showpiece meeting
Of the 27 races at the Cheltenham Festival, the bookmakers’ best chance of finishing on top for the week usually comes in the 11 handicap events, all of which are likely to be run at their maximum field sizes. But with the markets still in an early stage of development, there are good opportunities for punters with the publication on Thursday of the entries for those races.
Unlike the betting for the big races, which have been under way for months and in some cases have changed little since the start of the year, bookies are still feeling their way with the handicaps.
There are three obvious stages at which punters may want to get involved in the ante-post markets for the handicaps. The first comes now with confirmation of the entries. Next week the publication of the weights helps paint a clearer picture as to how the BHA handicappers have assessed the Irish entries. Then, nearer to the Festival, comes the important offer from fixed-odds bookmakers to accept bets on a “non-runner, no bet” basis, making thorny issues such as multiple entries a lot easier to handle. Not sure which race your fancy will go for? No matter. Back them for both.
Over 1,000 names figure among the entries for the handicaps. You will have your favourites which you will want to look out for. I know I’ve got mine. Here are five suggestions to get us started.
1: Deal Done (Dessie Hughes): 25-1 Kim Muir and Byrne Group Plate
Junior’s 24-length victory in last year’s Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase was no fluke, but the margin of his success was helped by the way in which Irish hope Deal Done set off at such a savage pace. Wearing a visor for the first time, he bounded along in front and looked for a while as if he wouldn’t come back to the field until signs of distress started to appear after a mistake at the fourth-last fence. He hasn’t been seen since leading to two out in the Irish Grand National the following month, but it’s good to see his name among the entries for Cheltenham and he looks likely to give his backers a good run for their money again.
2: Our Father (David Pipe): 7-1 Pertemps Final and 10-1 Coral Cup
Looks short enough in the betting purely on his form, but is also just the sort of horse who could go off a hot favourite for his chosen target if the rumours about the regard in which he is held at home prove true. An entry in the World Hurdle gives a clue as to what he is thought capable of and, despite a huge 19lb hike in the weights for beating Shoreacres at Ascot in December, we surely haven’t seen all that this horse is capable of after just four starts over hurdles.
3: Triolo D’Alene (Nicky Henderson): Pulteney Novice Handicap Chase and Festival Plate
The winner of chases in the French provinces in October and November, Triolo D’Alene presumably cost connections as a proven quality chaser with his novice status still intact, but he could hardly have made a more impressive British debut than when beating Ackertac at Ascot last month. He travelled effortlessly, came straight back on the bridle after a couple of jumping mistakes, and got the job done when asked to stretch ahead in the home straight. He’ll need to jump better at Cheltenham, but his rating of 136 has been preserved in order to keep him qualified for the novice race (0-140) and he wouldn’t be the first horse to come from France with a handicap mark that seriously underestimates his true ability.
4: Argocat (Tom Taaffe): 16-1 Fred Winter Hurdle
Now we start to get a little more adventurous. A talented horse for Paul Cole and Tom Tate on the Flat despite, like a few sons of the mercurial Montjeu, looking to have a few of his own ideas, he was retained by the Hay family at the end of the season but sent to Tom Taaffe, a trainer enjoying a revival this season after a couple of virus-ravaged years sent him back to square one. Under Taaffe’s care, Argocat has taken steady steps forward in three starts over hurdles, winning tidily at Thurles last month having previously finished third to subsequent Grade One runner-up Shadow Catcher. He is still in the Triumph Hurdle, but must have a better chance in the handicap. Most importantly, he looks sure to appreciate better ground having raced only in testing conditions in Ireland.
5: Lie Forrit (Willie Amos): JLT Speciality Handicap Chase
I can’t pretend to know whether this race is the intended target for Lie Forrit, but surely connections would be fools not to think about it. His star has dimmed slightly having met defeats on his last two starts, but both results came in three-runner races that were never going to be run to provide a suitable test of stamina for a horse who thrives on an end-to-end gallop. As a consequence of those ordinary efforts, his chase mark has been put in at 10lb lower than his hurdles rating but there’s absolutely no reason why Lie Forrit can’t be just as effective over fences. It’s only a couple of years since this horse was sent off favourite to beat the likes of Tidal Bay and Time For Rupert in the Cleeve Hurdle. With course form already in the book, he could be a fascinating contender if allowed to take his chance.