SOMETIMES the market can overreact to negative vibes about a particular horse and I’m hoping that will be the case with in-form Donald McCain’s PEDDLERS CROSS in this afternoon’s Jewson Novices’ Chase.
Last season’s Champion Hurdle runner-up had been seen as the only realistic threat to Sprinter Sacre in Tuesday’s Arkle, before connections opted last week to switch and target this race instead. Rumours about the horse’s wellbeing had spread like wildfire in the days leading up to the decision and McCain came out publicly and said that the horse hadn’t really fired since disappointing at Kempton over Christmas.
The apparent logic – other than avoiding another meeting with the seemingly unbeatable Sprinter Sacre – is that Peddlers will be far better suited to the extra five furlong trip and a less frenetic pace. I can understand that thought process and, if he’s as well as his trainer now reports, he should take plenty of beating.
Now, the fact remains that he was a 3/1 chance for the Arkle less than three weeks ago and he can be backed this morning at 7/2 with Coral for a weaker race (Grade Two rather than Grade One) over a trip that will suit him better. If he’d had a trouble-free preparation and had targeted this race all along, I’ve no doubt he’d be 7/4 rather than 7/2.
He is set to meet 11 decent rivals this afternoon and regular followers of this column will already have an each-way position on Nick Williams’ For Non Stop at 12/1. He’s half that price this morning and showed his well-being with a great run at Newbury last time. There is just a niggling doubt as to whether he is quite top class and I’m not sure he’s good enough to repel an in-form Peddlers Cross.
Champion Court brings solid course form to the table, while Solix has apparently been working the house down at Seven Barrows. Both should run solid races but also may lack the necessary class.
That leaves Willie Mullins’ Sir Des Champs as the most obvious danger to my selection. If truth be told, I’d have probably sided with this one each-way if he’d still been available at 8/1 like he was a few weeks ago. The problem is that the money has flooded in and he is now as short as 7/2 with Paddy Power. He won last year’s Martin Pipe Hurdle over this trip and is unbeaten over the bigger obstacles.
However, I’m pretty convinced his trainer wanted to target the RSA Chase yesterday as he looks crying out for three miles. He needed every yard of this trip 12 months ago and there is just a danger he may not have the gears to reel in Peddlers Cross.
The Pertemps Final hasn’t been a great race for punters in recent years with the last eight winners being double-figure prices, including two 50/1 shots. However, the remarkable BUENA VISTA has won this in each of the last two years and he has every chance of replicating Willie Wumpkins’ achievement of winning the race three years running.
David Pipe’s 11-year-old, who was tipped up at 20/1 in this column last year, has run at the Festival for seven straight years and has never finished worse than sixth. He is only 2lb higher than last year and has 10lb claimer Tom Bellamy in the saddle. Previous Festival form is always important and it would be wonderful to see Buena Vista land the prize again.
Pipe saddles the likely favourite Our Father who could be very well-handicapped. He’s only 4/1 on Betfair and with only four career starts, I’m just not sure if he has enough experience for a rough race like this. The yard had the favourite in this race last year, a similarly unexposed type in the shape of Chartreux, but he couldn’t live with his older stablemate.
Sonofvic represents Paul Nicholls and he’s another who could be on a particularly attractive mark. He wasn’t beaten far by Grands Crus over fences earlier this season and he won a decent race at Ascot last season.
Willie Mullins is another trainer who is always to be feared in these big handicap hurdles and when I was at the Cheltenham weights lunch a few weeks ago, one of the handicappers said he was most scared of Mullins’ Sergeant Guib’s. The six-year-old has run a couple of eye-catching races at Punchestown on soft ground and his French form suggests he’ll do better on good ground. He’s another, though, that lacks for experience and I’d far rather a battle-hardened handicapper than an unexposed type in this race.
One that fits that bill is Eddie O’Grady’s CATCH ME, now owned by JP McManus and ridden by AP McCoy. JP always loves to have big winners at this meeting and it’s interesting that he bought this high class hurdler just before the Festival. The 10-year-old has run some cracking races at Cheltenham and finished sixth in the Champion Hurdle in 2007. Take some of the 12/1 available with Coral.
Don’t rule out Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Kayf Aramis, who won this race in 2009. He’s a huge price at 33/1 and Bellflower Boy is also quite interesting down the foot of the weights at 25/1.
I’m at Cheltenham all week and you can get my up-to-date views on Twitter @BillEsdaile.
PEDDLERS CROSS 1.30pm Cheltenham
BUENA VISTA e/w 2.05pm Cheltenham
CATCH ME e/w 2.05pm Cheltenham
FOR NON STOP e/w 12/1 1.30pm Cheltenham