Although the National Hunt season proper has only really got under way with the arrival of the autumn rain, there are already plenty of punters taking more than a second glance at the ante-post markets for the principal championship races for the 2015 Cheltenham Festival, writes Elliot Slater.
Many of the market principals hail from the most powerful yards in the sport with the likes of Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson, David Pipe, Jonjo O’Neill, and Alan King all fielding representatives with a prominent position in the Cheltenham Festival betting next yaer.
Mullins’ tremendous prospect Faugheen, winner of the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, is generally sharing favouritism at around 5/1 for this term’s Champion Hurdle alongside the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained star The New One, a horse who many observers felt was unlucky not to win last term’s blue riband contest in which he finished a close third to Jessica Harrington’s Jezki after recovering well from being badly hampered by a faller at an early stage of the contest. Jezki is expected to try and defend his title, while last season’s runner-up, the Nicky Henderson-trained My Tent Or Yours, is another potential candidate proving popular with punters in the ante-post Cheltenham Festival betting.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is already being priced up as something of a two-horse race – but what a fantastic pair they are. The 2013 champion, Sprinter Sacre, is generally quoted the 3/1 ante-post favourite, just ahead of last year’s impressive winner Sire de Grugy (4/1), the Gary Moore-trained star who took full advantage of Sprinter Sacre’s absence after the top-class Henderson-trained chaser pulled up on his only start of last season suffering from an irregular heartbeat.
With his ailments reportedly behind him now, the return to the fray of Sprinter Sacre is going to be one of the most exciting events of the first half of the season, and the prospective series of battles between him and Sire de Grugy throughout the campaign is likely to draw in tremendous crowds wherever they compete.
The World Hurdle, the highlight on day three of the meeting, will once again be the main target for the Jonjo O’Neill-trained More Of That, who maintained his perfect record when inflicting a first ever defeat on the high-class Willie Mullins-trained mare Annie Power in a memorable renewal of the three-mile contest last March. At current best odds in the ante-post betting with odds of just 3/1, More of That is likely to be one of the hottest favourites of the week if he maintains his form this season. Annie Power may take him on again, (although connections appear more likely to target the Mares’ Hurdle), so it remains to be seen if any new dangers, such as the Punchestown winner Jetson, will emerge as serious challengers to O’Neill’s star turn.
The most open of the four major championship races is the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself with no outstanding candidate at this early stage of the season. The latest ante-post odds reflect this, with betting firms offering 10/1 the field, former champion Bobs Worth and the Grade 1 Aintree winner Holywell, (a winner of a handicap at the Cheltenham Festival a few weeks earlier), heading a wide-open field. Bobs Worth didn’t appear quite as good last year as the previous campaign when the Henderson-trained gelding won the Gold Cup in great style, but he wasn’t beaten far in March behind Jim Culloty’s surprise winner Lord Windermere, who is currently a general 14/1 shot to retain his crown.