THE Cheltenham Festival is less than three months away and the markets for the championship races are slowly but surely beginning to take shape. Backing ante-post is an occupational hazard and it can often pay to wait until bookmakers go non runner no bet, In fact, one major online bookie is going NRNB on a few select races so expect others to follow suit shortly. Here’s a few horses who have caught the eye recently and who might be worth a second look in the ante-post markets…
SCEAU ROYAL: Triumph Hurdle: Alan King already holds a strong hand for the Triumph Hurdle, a race he knows exactly how to win (Penzance and Katchit). Both Who Dares Wins and Gibralfaro are likely types but SCEAU ROYAL has really impressed with the manner of his jumping. It is slick and complements his high cruising speed. The horse has won on soft ground over the Triumph course and distance although he may be even better on a decent surface. His current price of 20/1 looks too big and if he delivers in his prep race (likely to be the Chatteris Fen at Huntingdon) then that value may disappear.
WAKANDA: Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase: I love this horse. He embodies the word “tough” and does not know when he is beaten. He is also rapidly improving and has risen to a mark of 155 with victories in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle and Ascot’s Silver Cup. He is only six and could be a Grand National horse one day but this race could be ideal for such an upwardly mobile chaser and economical jumper. He does like to get his toe in and 16/1 is decent value if Sue and Harvey Smith aim him for the race.
ONENIGHTINVIENNA: National Hunt Chase: Philip Hobbs’ likeable novice chaser is already 10/1 for this race and it would be marvellous to see him run as he carries the colours of Grand National stalwart West Tip. Aintree might be the long-term target in future years but he looks an ideal type for this marathon. He is also in the RSA Chase for which he is as big as 33/1. But although he may have to contend with Pont Alexandre, this 4m slog could be perfect.
BEKKENSFIRTH: Chaps Nov handicap Chase: This strapping young horse showed glimmers of promise over hurdles but has really come of age since switching to fences. He won an ordinary race on his chasing debut at Leicester with plenty in hand before producing an eye-catching performance at Kempton on Boxing Day when just outgunned by Full Shift. He jumped well and a bad error three fences out probably cost him the race. This race looks tailor-made for a horse who looks well handicapped at present although he may need to win again to guarantee getting into the race. The market is somewhat embryonic for this race but 16/1 for BEKKESNFIRTH is available.
THE ORGANIST: Mares Novices’ Hurdle: I’m not convinced there was a need for another new race at the Cheltenham Festival. But connections of talented young mares won’t be complaining and there are quite a few around this season. I love La Bague Au Roi but the Aintree mares’ bumper is a more likely target while there has been good money for the ante-post favourite for this race Limini, predictably trained by Willie Mullins and the workmanlike winner on her only start at Punchestown last May. But Oliver Sherwood thinks an awful lot of THE ORGANIST, who is unbeaten in three runs (a bumper and two hurdle races) and I’ve been very impressed by the way she is progressing. She is best priced 14/1 for this race and if she lines up I don’t expect her to be that big. A strong looking mare, she hosed up in a Perth bumper for Northern Ireland trainer Stuart Crawford before being snapped up by the Million In Mind Partnership and sent to Sherwood. She looks the real deal.