Three novice chasers at huge odds strike Rory Delargy as top bets in the Cheltenham betting, find out who they are and why they should be on your ante-post betting slip.
There are a plethora of options for novice chasers at the Cheltenham Festival, not only in the Grade 1 events like the Arkle, JLT (Golden Miller) and RSA Chases, but there is the 4m National Hunt Chase, and the option of handicaps, with the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase on day one of the meeting - and four other handicap chases throughout the four days.
The shrewdest trainers will even enter their novice chasers in some of the hurdle races, just to find out where they stand with the handicapper, and a switch of codes for some is not out of the question. At the time of writing, there were no weights available for the handicaps, so I’ll focus on the betting for the three Grade 1 novice chases at Cheltenham.
What has struck me most about the Arkle Novices' Chase contenders this season, is that the British contingent have not delivered what was promised at an early stage. Both Lalor and Kalashnikov were widely touted after impressive winning debuts, but neither has gone on to the pattern-race success expected, yet.
On the other hand, the Irish form, which was crabbed as being unexceptional, is beginning to stack up very well.
Not only that, but the form lines all point to the same horse, and that is the exciting Le Richebourg, who was out-stayed by Delta Work in a strong renewal of the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse, before adding wins in two Grade 1s at Leopardstown.
He is a superb jumper, and was a thoroughly deserving favourite until news filtered through on Monday morning that he would miss the rest of the season. The other thing to note from his wins is that he has been chased home by stable-companion Us And Them both times, and the runner-up is also an assured jumper of a fence who may well be underrated on the day.
I’d assumed that connections would pitch him into the Grand Annual Handicap Chase off a potentially lenient rating, but the absence of his stable companion means that there must be a chance he goes to the Arkle, and he does not have much to find.
His odds for this race when Le Richebourg was among the entries were inflated due to a generic bias against second-string runners, and while it has been adjusted with all the others in the light of recent happenings, the correction is arguably not big enough. His ability to maintain his technique under pressure is a big positive, and he's worth an each-way bet with the non-runner-no-bet concession.
The RSA Chase betting has been dominated by Delta Work and Santini for some time, and it’s hard to argue with the idea that they are major players, the former a winner of the Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle last year, and the latter finishing second in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle over the same C&D.
Both are chasers in appearance and both have progressed as expected over fences, with Santini’s defeat in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton a fine performance on a track and on ground which would hardly be ideal for him.
My preference at this stage is for him, but the inability to get to his intended prep race is a worry, as would be quick conditions at Cheltenham next month. As such, I would prefer to wait until the day before betting on him - therefore backing against him at this stage is counterintuitive.
Topofthegame deserves a mention having finished in front of Santini at Kempton in the race won by La Bague au Roi, and he will also be as effective on a stiffer track. He nearly refused at Exeter earlier in the season, but seemed to be spooked by the tape rather than being genuinely reluctant, and I think that display should be ignored.
Looking at those at bigger odds, I thought that Discorama made some appeal at 33/1 NRNB with Bet365. He has been touted as a possible for the Grade 2 National Hunt Chase, but I’m not sure he is in need of 4m, and he finished like a train in a slowly-run Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle last year to be second.
What he has in his favour is a good turn-of-foot for a horse who stays the RSA Chase trip, and he was challenging for the lead when falling in a Grade 3 at Naas on his latest start.
The second and third that day have gone on to fight out the finish of the Grade 2 Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan, and the collateral form suggests that Discorama deserves to take his place at Cheltenham. He’s another who would prefer soft ground, but will presumably not be risked on unsuitable terrain, and that’s what the non-runner-no-bet is for.
The JLT Novices' Chase is the hardest of the three Grade 1 events to bet on ante-post, with most of the contenders having alternative engagements, and nothing stood out at first glance.
Defi Du Seuil is learning all the time, and while he’s a less flamboyant jumper than old rival Lostintranslation, that is probably no bad thing here. The latter can be spectacular, but his habit of jumping out of his rider’s hands, while exciting to watch, isn’t ideal in a championship race.
He’s the type who appeals to my sentimental side, but sentiment makes for a poor mistress when betting. Defi Du Seuil on the other hand is more clinical and harder to love as a result, but his turn of foot from the last is a potent weapon, and I’d not oppose him lightly given he’s had the ideal education this season.
Of course, the chance of him being rerouted to the Arkle in the absence of Le Richebourg is very likely, and that changes the picture of both races.
Vinndication disappointed behind that pair at Sandown in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, but wasn’t disgraced under a rather tentative ride. It’s generally assumed that he won’t handle Cheltenham, given he’s been kept to right-handed tracks, but he looked top-class prior to that Esher outing.
The chance of him running may well be enhanced by the absence of Defi Du Seuil, and he would look very attractive at 14/1 in such a scenario. The Irish challenge for this looks surprisingly weak, but the chances are that a big player will still emerge, although I’ll be annoyed if it’s Discorama given the my RSA Chase comments above.
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