We are just about reaching the halfway point between the start of the national hunt season and the start of the Cheltenham Festival (12th-15th March). In some senses, the early part of the season has seen some continuity from the last spring, with several big names pulling out big wins to reinforce their credentials going into Cheltenham. However, there has been plenty of disappointments too. Here’s a look at what has been interesting and what has been impacting the ante-post markets.
Altior and Buveur D’Air Haven’t Missed a Beat
Nicky Henderson had two of the best horses at Cheltenham 2018 and it looks like he is going to have two of the stars of the 2019 Festival. Buveur D’Air, in particular, was excellent in his season debut at in the Fighting Fifth, beating the highly rated Samcro by 8 lengths and was a further 15 lengths ahead of Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Summerville Boy. Altior was in his usual imperious form, just going up a gear at the last to take the Tingle Creek Chase ahead of a gutsy Un De Sceaux. Both horses are found at very low odds, with the best price looking like Bet365’s evens for Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle and 8/11 from William Hill for Altior in the Champion Chase.
If Only the Festival was at Haydock Park
Bristol De Mai, the sometimes mesmerising, sometimes infuriating grey, has had pulled out some cracking results at Haydock over the last few years. A couple of weeks ago, it was the turn of Native River, Might Bite and Thistlecrack to feel to see Nigel Twiston-Davies’ 7-year-old finish a considerable distance ahead of them at Haydock. Might Bite, in particular, looked out of sorts. The Gold Cup markets weren’t rattled too much, with Presenting Percy slipping in to replace Might Bite as a general 9/2 favourite. It is Bristol De Mai, however, that might interest value-hunting punters. 20/1 now with Betfair to win the Gold Cup ahead of several horses he beat a few weeks ago. You can get insane Cheltenham free bets from top bookies at the moment. Is the Haydock specialist worth using one on as a shot to nothing?
Morgiana Mediocrity for Faugheen
What to make of Faugheen’s first run of the season at the Morgiana Hurdle? After last April’s Irish Champion Stayers’ Hurdle win, where he left Penhill trailing in his wake, there was a lot of talk of Faugheen reinventing himself as a long-distance hurdler. He spent the summer months as the favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle, but Faugheen has tumbled down the odds since that limp performance saw him finish second amongst a weak field in the Morgiana Hurdle. He stands at 12/1 now with William Hill for the Stayers’, although some bookies have put him significantly lower. He will be 11 by the time Cheltenham comes around, making the case for one last great race difficult to make.
Something extra from Thistlecrack?
Returning to that Betfair Chase, Colin Tizzard’s Thistlecrack, a horse who has looked far from his best since injury in early 2017 ruled out a Gold Cup tilt, certainly did not embarrass himself, finishing right behind Native River and over 20 lengths ahead of Might Bite. Like Faugheen, he will be 11-years-old when Cheltenham gets underway. He will be aiming to be the first horse of 11 years or older to win the Gold Cup since What a Myth in 1969. Tizzard has been very upbeat about Thistlecrack. But his 25/1 general price suggests the bookies think it unlikely.