OVER the next nine or so weeks between now and the start of this year’s Cheltenham Festival, we will continue to add to our ante-post portfolio that already contains Somersby for the Arkle at 20/1 (now as short as 13/2 with Boylesports). With heavy snow decimating this weekend’s racing action, I have picked out a couple more Festival fancies…
First up, I cannot understand why GO NATIVE is still available at 13/2 for the Champion Hurdle after proving his Fighting Fifth triumph was no fluke by landing the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Noel Meade’s seven-year-old has now won three Grade One hurdles and in my book should be clear favourite for the hurdling crown. He arrived at the front too soon at Kempton and would have been a far more convincing winner if his cards had been played later.
The guaranteed strong pace in the Champion Hurdle will play to his strengths and I would be hugely surprised if he doesn’t arrive at the last cantering. Don’t forget that he won last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, so the challenges of winning at the Festival hold no fears. I expect him to be produced late after the last and more importantly, I expect him to win. He wouldn’t want the ground any softer than Good to Soft – if you ignore his latest two runs on soft ground, he has won all of his five other starts.
Nicky Henderson’s Punchestowns currently heads the betting for the RSA Chase at a best-priced 9/2 after his scintillating chasing debut at Newbury last month. However, he missed his intended engagement at Cheltenham over New Year and those odds are pretty skinny about a horse who has only run once over fences.
The really interesting thing about the current market for the RSA Chase is that plenty of the leading contenders are far from guaranteed runners. Long Run hails from the same stable as Punchestowns and connections have already not ruled out a tilt at the Arkle. Mikael D’Haguenet has had a host of problems and has yet to make his debut over fences – he could easily be aimed over hurdles instead – while Diamond Harry is another currently in the top five in the betting who has yet to jump a fence in public.
I’m therefore very interested in Irish raider WEAPON’S AMNESTY who is a previous Festival winner (last year’s Albert Bartlett) and has already had four runs over fences. He relishes cut in the ground and a strongly run three miles and he should get his ideal conditions at Prestbury Park in March. Admittedly, he has been a bit clumsy over his fences and has even ended up on the floor, but to my eye, his jumping improves as the pace quickens.
There is a danger that connections may opt to switch back to hurdles, but I think they’ll go for the RSA Chase and the general 16/1 is simply too big.
GO NATIVE 13/2 Champion Hurdle
WEAPON’S AMNESTY 16/1 RSA Chase