The New Year is in and that only means one thing for jumps racing fans…we can officially start counting down to the biggest week in the year, the Cheltenham Festival in March, now only 10 weeks out.
As always the Festive racing offered as many new questions as it did answers and here we’ll assess the market in the four Championship races and identify what might currently be a value contender in each.
Dramatic change in the landscape here over Christmas as reigning champ Buveur D’air, now 4/7 to retain the crown, rubberstamped his well-being with an easy Christmas Hurdle win at Kempton.
Real anticipation was building over a potential shootout between Nicky Henderson’s charge and Willie Mullins’ 2015 winner Faugheen.
Alas, ‘The Machine’ was pulled up at Leopardstown and now has serious doubts over getting to Cheltenham at all.
Faugheen is 6/1 but his stablemate Melon, currently 8/1, might be better value. He was well beaten in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham but didn’t have the clearest of runs at a crucial time and has scope for doing much better things as he gains experience.
The race however appears to be Buveur D’air’s to lose at the moment.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
The 11/10 ante-post favourite Altior is recovering from a wind operation and hasn’t been sighted, while Douvan’s season appears to be over before it has even started.
His stablemate Min did little to strengthen his case when losing his Leopardstown win in the stewards’ room (the run wouldn’t have enhanced his credentials either way).
The big move has come from Politologue, winner of the Tingle Creek and the Desert Orchid Chase.
Plenty will quibble with the form but Paul Nicholls, seeking a record-equalling sixth Queen Mother win, is adamant his charge has improved tons this season.
He’s 7/2 now and has to be considered a huge contender given the doubts over the others.
Fox Norton flopped over three miles in the King George, but don’t discount Colin Tizzard’s runner, second last year and currently 8/1 to go one better in March.
Real sadness at Christmas as reigning champion Nichols Canyon suffered a fatal fall, a teak-tough warrior of a horse, he’ll be badly missed.
Sam Spinner showed similar qualities in winning the Long Walk at Hurdle at Ascot in gutsy fashion from the front and is now the 7/2 market leader for this race. He’s clearly going the right way and can improve again.
Unowhatimeanharry was all the rage for this a year ago but is in decline now and relatively friendless. More interesting could be Beer Goggles, who beat him at Newbury in November.
Apple’s Jade is 6/1 and she has made an outstanding case in hammering Nichols Canyon at Fairyhouse on her reappearance before gallantly downing Supasundae at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Gordon Elliott however has insisted his mare will defend her title in the Mares’ Hurdle, so it may be worth paying close attention to 8/1 chance Supasundae for Jessica Harrington.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
King George winner Might Bite has taken over as outright favourite for the Gold Cup with his Kempton win. He was more workmanlike than anything in the end, but he did duel with Bristol De Mai early on and so may have done rather well to win the race having burnt off that rival.
Over in Ireland, reigning champ Sizing John delivered a listless performance as he was turned over at odds-on in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase. No mitigating factors have been detected in subsequent tests, leaving him with a bit of a cloud over his head.
The winner of that race, Road To Respect, is another very talented Gigginstown runner and at a double-figure prices could well improve again come Cheltenham, ensuring he’s a potential value runner against a field with plenty of imponderables in it now.
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