In her latest column, Maddy Playle (@mp_horseracing) picks out five horses of interest that might just be flying under the radar heading into the Cheltenham Festival.
Champion Hurdle – Sceau Royal – 33/1
If you’re looking at the Champion Hurdle market, you may as well be bold. I have no doubt Willie Mullins knows exactly where he’s at with both Annie Power and Faugheen, but alas, we are in the dark. This gives us chance to have a look at the other end of the market for some each way value, and I’ve ended up with Alan King’s SCEAU ROYAL. He was one of King’s best juvenile hurdlers last year before he ran no sort of race in the Triumph Hurdle – but plenty of horses can be excused that.
He started this year finishing like a train in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle, sprinting clear of Leoncavallo, Gibralfaro and Adrien Du Pont. Next up was the Elite Hurdle, which he again won impressively after his main rival Zubayr fell at the last, but he looked beaten anyway. I thought he travelled best of all in the Fighting Fifth but struggled to pick up on the ground – but this was an odd exertion as half of his wins have been in soft conditions. Alan King has since said he wasn’t right at Newcastle and can be forgiven this run all together. The Fighting Fifth form looks better than most of us initially thought, with Apple’s Jade beating Vroum Vroum Mag (who has since won the Christmas Hurdle) in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.
It is hard to assess the value of a lot of Sceau Royal’s form, but when considering the Champion Hurdle market at the moment, it is worth taking a dart at something a little more outlandish. If King can get him spot on for the festival I think the race will suit him and he has proved he can inject devastating pace late on in a race, which is what is needed for the Champion Hurdle.
Cheltenham Gold Cup – Many Clouds – 50/1
If you’re looking at the Champion Hurdle market and wanting to be bold, you may as well do the same for the Gold Cup. With Coneygree and Don Cossack announced as non runners in recent days, and the Ryanair looking a possibility for Cue Card, Thistlecrack’s task appears to be getting easier and easier. If anything, I think the Lexus Chase confirmed that Ireland don’t have a star in the wings for this year, so that leaves it awfully open. It is a shame we won’t see MANY CLOUDS face Thistlecrack in the Cotswold Chase on Trials Day, as in many ways I think it would have been an even harder test for the Gold Cup favourite than the King George was.
That said, Oliver Sherwood has said that the Gold Cup is under consideration for Many Clouds having disappointed in it behind Coneygree before winning the Grand National two years ago. With the race cutting up and his stable star looking as good as ever, he must be tempted and I’m sure the ever bold Trevor Hemmings won’t be adverse to giving it a go either – let’s remember his National hero Hedgehunter came so very close to winning a Gold Cup, too.
This is very much a shot in the dark, but the Gold Cup looks an each way punter’s dream. The race is more of a stamina test than many give it credit for, and Many Clouds has proved he has that in abundance. His jumping is pinpoint accurate which could well put the others under some pressure, and he won’t be lacking for heart at the buckle end of the race. 50/1 is an insult to a horse of unique talent.
National Hunt Chase – Premier Bond – 20/1
The National Hunt Chase is a race I am really looking forward to this year – two of my favourites Aurillac (25/1) and Potters Legend (25/1) look to have solid chances in a race full of quality. But whilst I was at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, PREMIER BOND showcased his credentials in a 3m1f Novices Chase at Catterick, a race which has probably gone under the radar. I was a big fan of this horse last season.
He looked a bit of a baby in his Novice Hurdle at Sandown behind O O Seven, but showed plenty of promise for the future. I thought he was a good thing for the Citipost Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham in April, but he didn’t jump with any fluency, stumbled at one of his flights and was a lost cause after. I presumed he broke a blood vessel that day and conceded maybe he wasn’t the horse I hoped he was. However, a breathing operation has seemingly revitalised him, and means he has a genuine excuse for disappointing last this season.
He proved he was a horse of considerable promise when chasing home Mite Bite at Ffos Las on chasing debut, and for all he may have finished 14 lengths behind, this doesn’t look too bad considering Mite Bite’s almighty effort in the Feltham before falling at the last. This is probably one of the best pieces of form around when considering staying Novice Chasers.
Premier Bond is another who seems to relish a test of stamina, and connections seem to be favouring the National Hunt Chase as the Festival target at the moment. He jumped with real efficiency to score at Catterick and it will be interesting to see how that form works out. It didn’t immediately impress, but I thought Final Nudge would make a smart staying handicap chaser after a good season as a Novice Hurdler, and Hawkhurst did show ability once upon a time.
Neptune Novices’ Hurdle – Messire Des Obeaux 12/1
I didn’t rate MESSIRE DES OBEAUX after his win in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown, but he did show his battling qualities to deny Cultivator and Ballyandy in the run up to the line. However, Newbury came around and before the Challow Novices’ Hurdle I thought it looked a renewal of exceptional quality. Baltazar D’Allier and Robin Roe came into the race with lofty reputations, and Elegant Escape and Ami Desbois are no back numbers either. I don’t think Robin Roe would have reached the winner if he hadn’t have fell, either.
Messire Des Obeaux was perfectly positioned in the early part of the race but what really caught my eye was how he travelled. The performance was even more impressive when you consider the improvement he showed from his last run, although it would be easy to say Cultivator didn’t run up to his best this time around. Daryl Jacob’s charge jumped well besides one mistake at the last, and stuck on bravely to deny Baltazar D’Allier and Ami Desbois. I rate both of those horses pretty highly, and indeed Elegant Escape in behind, and wouldn’t be surprised to see them surpass the winner in the future, but I think Messire Des Obeaux has precocity in his favour and hasn’t finished improving yet. Alan King believes he is his best young horse and at only four, he appears to have the world at his feet.
The Neptune looks the ideal race for him, as he has plenty of pace but has proved he stays. I think his form is arguably better than Finian’s Oscar’s, who heads the market at 5/1, and Death Duty looks as if he may well go to the Albert Bartlett. I think Messire Des Obeaux is value for a lot more than 12/1, and I am surprised more people don’t feel the same.
Albert Bartlett – Peregrine Run – 20/1
Speaking of the Albert Bartlett, PEREGRINE RUN is a horse I’ve had in mind for the race since November. He brushed away our best staying Novice Hurdlers in Wholestone and West Approach with more ease than the eventual winning margin suggested, and I think there is definitely more to come from this improving son of King’s Theatre. I didn’t think this form was anything special in the aftermath, but Wholestone could do no more than beat Ami Desbois next time, and West Approach proved he was no slouch when in the process of running a career best in the Long Walk Hurdle before unseating at the last.
Peregrine Run looks as if he will go to Warwick for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle over 2m5 at Warwick on Saturday – I think this race is ideal for him and he could well shorten for the Albert Bartlett following a positive display. It is easy to be drawn in by promise rather than proven ability for the Festival, but the Albert Bartlett is not a race for the fainthearted and Peregrine Run looks as if he is well equipped for a race which takes an awful lot of stamina and guts.
According to connections he needs good ground and I think should he get it, he will be a force to be reckoned with at the Festival. There is no doubt in my mind if he was from a more flashy stable he would be much shorter.