Although many months remain until the start of the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, betting is liable to start early as punters look to take advantage of lucrative prices before the National Hunt season gets into full flow.
Below are five horses that we think have big potential this season and have serious claims to enter the winners’ enclosure when the Festival rolls around in March.
Although tipping an ante-post favourite is not the most imaginative strategy, Ladbrokes are offering the top early price that Simonsig wins the Ryanair Chase.
Given Sprinter Sacre’s dominance of the 2m division, it is unlikely that Nicky Henderson will run his two chase speedsters against each other in the Champion Chase.
Simonsig won the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle over 2m4f and so stamina should be no issue in the Ryanair Chase. His chances will only improve too if expected challengers Cue Card and Dynaste are continually targeted at the 3m+ contests this season, with the aim of a run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The lack of prestige of the Ryanair is the only other problem, as should Simonsig compete and run well in the King George on Boxing Day, connections may decide that the Gold Cup is also where they want their horse to run.
In terms of his best trip this season, the Ryanair has to be the obvious target.
Some gloss was taken off of Lord Windermere’s victory in the RSA Chase at the last Cheltenham Festival because of the fall of Boston Bob when leading at the final fence, but there is a feeling that the eventual winner would have landed the spoils in any case.
In the last six years, Denman and Bobs Worth have won the Gold Cup 12 months after triumphing in the RSA.
Furthermore, Lord Windermere is 2-2 for victories in March during his career, has won on ground ranging from heavy to good-to-soft and is bound to shorten from his current price if performing well in the Hennessy Gold Cup next.
Faugheen – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or Neptune Novices’ Hurdle
Faugheen was widely regarded as the best bumper horse in the Willie Mullins yard last season, despite the fact that stablemate Briar Hill ended up claiming the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
He has finally made his racecourse debut since, landing two contests without breaking sweat. His maiden hurdles success was over 2m6f, but the suggestion is that he will be dropped back in trip moving forwards. The runner-up Josses Hill has also since joined Nicky Henderson.
The Neptune would therefore look the logical Festival contest over 2m4f, but Mullins was expected to utilise Champagne Fever’s stamina in the same race last year, until deciding on the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle over 2m instead, which proved the right decision.
Faugheen could do the same, despite his proven stamina.
The choices are even more widespread for Mullins as he bids to pick the right contest for Felix Yonger.
Having chased home Simonsig in the 2012 Neptune, Felix Yonger missed the majority of last season injured. His last two starts have brought chase victories over 2m4f and 2m, which shows his versatility, with the former coming in the same contest that Sizing Europe secured his maiden chase success.
The consensus is that Felix Yonger may remain over 2m to contest the Arkle, which is a race that Mullins has never trained the winner of.
However, the Jewson Novices’ Chase or even the RSA Chase over 3m cannot be totally discounted from thinking and the final decision may well be based on where Mullins runs Champagne Fever to avoid the pair squaring off in the same race.
Baradari is yet to be seen on English soil since being moved to the yard of Venetia Williams, but the fact that he is a half-brother to Barizan, who finished second in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2010, is a good sign.
The fact his sire is 2007 star horse Manduro, who showed stamina and tactical speed to rack up a succession of Group 1 victories bodes well, while he may well improve for the better ground on offer since moving from France.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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