Road to Cheltenham: Punters starting to pin their colours to the mast

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This time next week National Hunt fans will be pacing up and down wishing the clocks would move faster on what we will call Cheltenham Festival Eve.

The Prestbury Park bonanza is now just eight days away and the markets are beginning to really take shape.

Last weekend’s action did little to give us many clues as to the week in Gloucestershire, though we did hear that Many Clouds could prepare for the Grand National in the Gold Cup.

Oliver Sherwood’s star is a 33/1 shot for the showpiece event at Cheltenham, though with connections unlikely to want him to be given too hard a race, punters haven’t been flocking to back the nine-year-old.

There have however, been a number of very popular horses in the past week, particularly in the handicaps.

Here are three of the best backed in the last seven days.

Diego Du Charmil – Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – 7/1 from 12/1

In the last three years Paul Nicholls has saddled nine imported runners from France in the Fred Winter – with six of them winning or placing.

Katgary was second in the race on his first start for the Ditcheat trainer and it seems punters are backing Diego Du Charmil to go one better on his first start for the trainer.

His latest recruit failed to get his head in front in three runs in France for Arnaud Chaille-Chaille but he did finish eight lengths in front of a subsequent Listed race winner on his most recent start.

Before that he was three-and-a-half lengths in front of Voix Du Reve who has since joined Willie Mullins and been narrowly touched off in a Grade 3.

If confirming that sort of form at the Festival, Nicholls could be set to reward punters that have had the foresight to respect his dominant record in the race.

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Johns Spirit – Brown Advisory Plate – 10/1 from 20/1

Jonjo O’Neill’s charge seems to love Cheltenham, winning three times at the venue, including the 2013 Paddy Power Gold Cup as well as placing in the Byrne Group Plate.

The most recent of those victories came in a handicap off a mark of 147 – just one pound higher than he is now currently rated – leading many to think that he is very well treated indeed.

Money has continued to come for the nine-year-old this week, with a single figure price looking a matter of when, rather than if.

Ground could be key for the son of Gold Well though, with all three of those course wins coming when the ground was good-to-soft or better so connections will be looking to avoid any rain in the week leading up to the Festival.

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Tea in Transvaal – Dawn Run Mares Novices’ Hurdle – 20/1 from 33/1

Despite not being seen on the track since November, there has been plenty of money to suggest that Evan Williams’ mare could just outrun her odds in the Festival’s newest race.

Five wins in six outings since arriving at Aberogwrn Farm from Tim Vaughan, the five-year-old has gone from strength to strength with some of her form looking very strong indeed.

Ruby Rambler who was 21 lengths behind at Newbury has since gone on to win a handicap by an eased down nine lengths at Southwell.

Furthermore, her one defeat this term came when three lengths behind subsequent National Spirit Hurdle winner Lil Rockerfeller and a length in arrears of International Hurdle third Hargam.

With a record of three wins from three outings against her own sex there is every reason to believe that this mare could be one to run into the places at the Festival.

All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.