I’M confused. Bookies are confused. Punters are probably bemused. The ante-post markets for the 2017 Cheltenham Festival are about as clear as mud. Big stars are falling by the wayside, the latest being Faugheen and Min. But while purists will bemoan a dearth of so-called superstars, punters should be rubbing their hands. Watching odds-on shots win at the Festival can get a bit dull, so I look forward to some of the Grade Ones having a more open look. There are still some key trials to run, of course, but it may also pay to look for punts outside the Championship races to find some value lurking in the ante-post lists. Here are five ante-post tips for the Cheltenham Festival.
MOON RACER Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle: Unoriginal I know, but this horse clearly sets the standard. His victory at Cheltenham at the November meeting is the strongest form and it came on ground that would not have really played to his strengths. He goes well fresh so his absence is not a worry although David Pipe is looking to give him another run before Cheltenham. If he can deliver him to the starting line in good form then the 7/1 looks decent.
MESSIRE DES OBEAUX Neptune Novices’ Hurdle: The emergence of Finian’s Oscar and Neon Wolf in recent weeks could see this undeniably useful pair dominate the market, unless Willie Mullins shows his hand. It means the likeable Messire Des Obeaux is as high as 12/1, which seems overpriced. He has done nothing wrong and everything right this season and will finalise his preparation in the Sidney Banks Hurdle at Huntingdon this week.
WAITING PATIENTLY JLT Chase: It is more than 30 years since the north had a real stranglehold on the Cheltenham Festival via Michael Dickinson. They could do with a winner and Waiting Patiently could be their best chance. He is unbeaten in three chases and in his last two runs has seen off Forest Bihan and Politologue, who are both highly promising types. The form looks solid. The horse will require some rain to run and he could even run in the Arkle as Malcolm Jefferson feels he might be better over a true run two miles. The 20/1 on offer in the JLT is tempting but with his participation by no means certain a non runner no bet ante-post punt would be advisable.
LA BAGUE AU ROI Mares Novices’ Hurdle: Warren Greatrex’s talented mare is unbeaten over hurdles and her victory at Newbury over Dusky Legend looks strong form. She really needs good ground to show her best and is likely to get it. She is best priced 6/1 at the time of writing and, interestingly, Dusky Legend can be backed at 20/1. That’s also worth an each-way saver as she was second in the race last year and will relish decent ground.
WEST APPROACH Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle: Colin Tizzard might well be tempted to throw Thistlecrack’s half brother into the deep end in the Stayers’Hurdle based on his excellent run behind Unowhatimeanharry in the Cleeve Hurdle where he was given plenty to do. The Albert Bartlett would be an easier mission although Wholestone and Death Duty will provide stern opposition. Ruby Walsh was given a bit of stick for his hold-up ride in the Cleeve but I think that is the way to ride him: drop him out and switch him off, otherwise he can be a bit buzzy. 7/1 looks fair value but back him with a run.
* Prices correct at the time of writing 06/02/2017