An early Antepost look at Cheltenham 2022
The 2021 Cheltenham Festival has come and gone but not without leaving its mark in history. Henry De Bromhead became the first trainer to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup in the same year, highlighting the Irish dominance and a subsequent trouncing in the Prestbury Park Cup. There may have been a lack of roar at this year’s Festival, but the quality of racing was simply outstanding. Both the novice hurdle and chase scenes were lit up by electric performances from Appreciate It, Shishkin and Bob Olinger. The Irish banker of the meet, Monkfish, frightened a few with his jumping but ultimately ran the legs off his rivals, completing the last 4 furlongs quicker than Put The Kettle On! Honeysuckle remained unbeaten in a Champion Hurdle romp, flying up the Cheltenham Hill, but the same cannot be said for a certain Chacun Pour Soi, who like many, seemed to succumb to the famous Cheltenham run in. Flooring Porter announced himself as the new top staying hurdler and The Gold Cup delivered a dramatic race but one of real quality. Henderson inmates Champ and Santini couldn’t survive a circuit and Native River appeared to sprint the full 3 miles and 2 furlongs. A testament to both horse and rider that he ran on into fourth. History seeking Al Boum Photo made sloppy mistakes at crucial times but put in a valiant defence to finish third. Henry De Bromhead’s Minella Indo and A Plus Tard fought out the finish and unfortunately for Rachel Blackmore, the only mistake she made all week, was picking the latter. Minella Indo loves Cheltenham and he came alive once again to land National Hunts most coveted crown.
Supreme Novices Hurdle
The current betting for next year’s Supreme Novices Hurdle is headed by this year’s Champion Bumper winner, Sir Gerhard 5/1. He may appear a little on the short side but being an extremely impressive Point to Point winner, you would like to think he’ll improve for going hurdling. Both himself and stablemate, Kilcruit, pulled clear of the staying on Elle Est Belle and given their prior bumper form, they are clearly very smart individuals. Trained by Willie Mullins, I would be amazed to see them both come here and given Sir Gerhard appeared to out speed Kilcruit coming down the hill and turning for home, he looks likely to fly the flag for team Mullins. 6/1 is a skinny price but he will be 3/1 after winning a novice hurdle! Three Stripe Life 40/1 was making just his second ever lifetime start, having had no prior racing experience before bolting up in his only bumper. Fractious beforehand and extremely keen through the early stages, Three Stripe Life ran a race full of promise and ultimately got tired, losing third in the final strides. He looks open to any amount of improvement and should he take to hurdles could be a big price at 40/1. His pedigree is all stamina though and despite showing serious speed in his bumper win, he could be one for the Ballymore or Bartlett. Of those that didn’t run in the Champion Bumper, Jonbon 10/1 is well worth a mention. A full brother to the mighty Douvan, it was no surprise to see a certain JP McManus pay £570,000 at the sales to secure his services. Henderson sent Jonbon for his debut at Newbury over the weekend, where Jonbon won in impressive fashion, looking quite the professional throughout. His price has contracted a fair bit since and given his profile there was always going to be strong market support. His current odds of 12/1 look on the slim side but he showed enough to suggest this may be value come the day.
Ballymore Novices Hurdle
As touched upon in the Supreme Novice Hurdle section, Willie will be keen to keep Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit apart. Kilcruit 6/1 currently heads the betting for the Ballymore and at this extremely early stage I would say he’ll come here or maybe the Bartlett. He got the racing world talking with an unbelievable performance at the Dublin Racing Festival and backed it up with a staying on second in the Champion Bumper. Tony Mullins has touted this horse as a top stayer in the making and I tend to agree. His Dublin Racing Festival win highlighted his staying power and that was again on show at Cheltenham. I do believe he has stacks of class though and his extremely high cruising speed may get him through novice hurdles at the shorter trips. Like Sir Gerhard, his price is only likely to get significantly shorter once he wins a novice hurdle! I do believe his target is slightly trickier to predict though. The only other horse that caught my eye at this very early stage in the Ballymore market was Journey With Me 16/1. Running in the same colours as a certain Bob Olinger, he won the same bumper as Bob in similarly impressive fashion. He could be very smart and he’s one to watch out for going novice hurdling.
Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle
After a fine performance in the Champion Bumper and Tony Mullins himself suggesting this horse as a future Ballymore/Albert Bartlett winner, it is unsurprising to see Kilcruit 12/1 head the market. The Albert Bartlett has been a head scratcher for punters in recent times and this year proved no different with Vanillier bolting up at 14/1. Kilcruit may well be a Ballymore type and price dependent, may be one for the any race markets. One at a massive price I did like was £255,000 Point to Point recruit, Hollow Games 40/1. Unbeaten in two bumpers this season, he physically looks a big staying chaser but has shown plenty of natural talent in his short career so far. Eurotiep has franked his form, comfortably winning two novice hurdles. I can only see Hollow Games improving for both hurdles and a step up in trip. At this very early stage, he does make appeal at 50/1.
Arkle Novices Chase
Next years Arkle betting is already dominated by this seasons Supreme Novice hurdle winner, Appreciate It 7/2. Should he translate his hurdles form to fences, there is no doubt he has what it takes to be an Arkle contender. From an antepost perspective I do think he represents a risky proposition though. The manner in which he won the Supreme, may tempt connections to consider a tilt at the Champion Hurdle and should he go over fences there is no guarantee he’ll stay at 2 miles, given he may even improve for the step up in trip. His stable mate, Ferny Hollow 16/1, would make plenty of appeal at the prices. Having beaten both Appreciate It and Ballymore winner, Bob Olinger, he could be a monster. As an ex Point to Pointer, the plan initially will have been chasing and he really could be anything. Like Appreciate It, connections may also be considering the Champion Hurdle but at 16/1 for the Arkle and 12/1 for the Champion Hurdle, there is no harm in backing him for both. Of the ones at much bigger prices, I thought Aspire Tower 40/1 made plenty of appeal. Two visits to Cheltenham, have yielded a second placed effort in the Triumph and a fourth placed finish in this years Champion Hurdle. He clearly goes well at the track and with age on his side, has plenty of scope for improvement.
Marsh Novices Chase
The Marsh Novices chase has been Punter’s paradise over the years with the likes of Sire Des Champs, Vautour, Yorkhill, Defi De Seuil and Samcro all entering the winner’s enclosure. This year’s renewal looked like another for favourite backers, but Envoi Allen came crashing down at the fourth. I believe punters may get back on track this year with ultra-impressive Ballymore winner Bob Olinger 5/1. On looks, he appears every inch a chaser and with Honeysuckle in the same yard I doubt Henry will want to send them down the same route. The likelihood is he’ll be sent chasing and this ex Point to Pointer may well improve further for a fence. He travels, he jumps, has plenty of stamina but also stacks of pace. The Marsh looks made for him and if chasing is confirmed the plan, I believe this will be the target. Odds of 5/1 are no doubt skinny for this time of year but come March 5/1 may be a big price. Appreciate It 6/1 could be a big danger for team Mullins but should the pair clash I would still favour Bob!
Brown Advisory Novices Chase
One of the more open looking markets at next years festival is headed by this years impressive Albert Bartlett winner Vanillier 12/1. He looks a very good horse and connections will no doubt have a tough decision to make, whether to go chasing or have a crack at the Stayers Hurdle. I would have question marks about the strength of the Albert Bartlett he won, and as a result, may be inclined to look for more value at this stage. Bravemansgame 14/1 has often found his name mentioned in the same sentence as Denman this season which is testament to how highly thought of this horse is. Like Denman, he was beaten in the Ballymore but surely has much more to offer fences. Should he line up in the race, there is no chance he will be 14/1. Of those at much bigger odds, one does make significant appeal. Gars De Sceaux 40/1 relished a step up to three miles on his most recent hurdles start, obliterating some useful individuals. He looks a big, raw, scopey, individual and being an ex-Point to Point winner will no doubt have been bought with chasing in mind. I’d be amazed if connections don’t send him over fences and I would be equally surprised if he doesn’t prove a far better chaser. He is also priced up at 50/1 for the National Hunt Chase which could look extremely big given I believe he has an abundance of stamina.
This years Mares Hurdle caused one of the shocks of the Festival when odds on favourite Concertista was chinned on the line by Black Tears. The pair head the betting for next year’s renewal, and you could argue they both make appeal at their current prices. Concertsita 8/1 and Black Tears 8/1 are both mares who are entitled to improve further but I do wonder whether connections of Concertista may be tempted to go for the Champion Hurdle back down at 2 miles. Of those at bigger prices I thought Shewearsitwell 14/1 was very interesting. Touted as the Willie Mullins Mares Novice horse for the season, she was electric at Tipperary but had a setback over Christmas. Given she returns with the same levels of ability, she could offer some value at 16/1. Tellmesomethinggirl 12/1 has to enter calculations on the back of her impressive Mares Novice win but I do think she may be slightly ground dependent, relishing a quicker surface, so may not be the most reliable of antepost punts.
Mares Novice Hurdle
Dominated over the years by Willie Mullins, Henry De Bromhead became the second ever trainer to win the Mares Novice Hurdle since its induction back in 2016. Tellmesomethinggirl ran out an impressive winner under another top-class Rachel Blackmore ride but from an antepost perspective, this is a tricky race to assess. Eileendover 12/1 currently sits at the top of the betting and could be anything for trainer Pam Sly. She’s been freakishly good in bumpers and connections may be thinking about a potential flat campaign for her, which I would imagine could prove quite lucrative. I’d like to know 100% she goes hurdling before I got involved antepost. This year’s Champion Bumper third, Elle Est Belle 12/1 ran a stormer at Cheltenham and was a real eye catcher staying on late up the hill. If she takes well to hurdling, I’d be surprised to see her at 12/1 come the day. Team Mullins is likely to have a few very good ones for this and at the prices I would probably side with Brandy Love 25/1 at this stage. She was seriously good on her first start for the yard before going off a well backed favourite at The Dublin Racing Festival. She paid the price for running too keenly throughout but as an ex-Point to Point winner, she is entitled to improve for going hurdling and gaining experience.
The first renewal of the Mares Chase served up a great battle between stable mates Colreevy 6/1 and Elimay 6/1. In my opinion the race lacked quality and depth and the two class horses came to the fore. It is tricky to tell what mare may emerge on the scene next year and it could be that the Willie Mullins inmates lock horns once again. At the prices, I would favour this year’s winner Colreevy, who I believe has improvement to come and won a shade cosily. Her attitude is outstanding, and she seemed to thrive coming up the Cheltenham Hill. If Willie can get her jumping straighter, she will be hard to peg back.
The Champion Hurdle market is rightfully headed by this year’s unbeaten winner, Honeysuckle 3/1. She looks like she could dominate the division for the years to come and if rocking up in the same form 3/1 may look a big price. Next March is a long way off though and with chasing a possibility its not my type of price. Triumph hurdle winner Quilixious 14/1 may attract some support but time after time we see very good juveniles fail to deliver in their 5-year-old season. Another running in the colours of Cheveley Park does make significant appeal. Ferny Hollow 12/1 has seen his form majorly franked at Cheltenham, having beaten both Supreme winner, Appreciate It, and Ballymore winner, Bob Olinger. It’s safe to say this horse must have stacks of ability but having picked up an injury this season he does represent a risky proposition. As touched upon earlier he may also be one to keep an eye on in the Arkle market. Of the ones at big prices, Abacadabras 33/1 currently looks overpriced. He took a tumble in this year’s Champion Hurdle when many expected him to run a massive race. His form with Shishkin looks stronger than ever and I’d be surprised to see him go chasing. He is certainly one who could be a lot shorter come this time next year.
Unsurprisingly, scintillating Arkle winner Shishkin 6/4 heads the betting for next years Champion Chase. He really was breath taking in the Arkle and deserves his spot at the top at the market, but his price is horrendous. He may well go off shorter on the day, but plenty can change in 12 months, factoring in injuries and setbacks, it’s just not a price that will excite many punters. He may be one for a few accumulators. I do believe Shishkin will be hard to beat but this year’s Champion Put The Kettle On 10/1 won’t go down without a fight! Four visits to Cheltenham has resulted in 4 wins and I think she represents a solid each way bet at 10/1. Energumene 14/1 was set to clash with Shishkin in this year’s Arkle and considering he was as short as 2/1 to take him down this year, the 16/1 may look a big price. I think he’s going to be a monster but potentially over slightly further and he’d attract me more in the Ryanair betting. Speaking of the Ryanair, Allaho 8/1, destroyed his rivals in this year’s renewal and it was interesting to hear Willie say he could be a Champion Chaser. I believe the plan is to try him over two miles and he could be interesting off the back of such a devastating performance. Of those at a wild price, I thought Captain Guinness 66/1 was a tad overpriced given Allmankind is half that and Captain Guinness surely has plenty of improvement to come. He raced extremely keenly in the Arkle and his season to date has been far from smooth sailing. Despite going a bonkers gallop early on and running keen throughout he plugged on gamely up the hill and must possess quite the engine. If he learns to settle, 66/1 may look a big price come the day.
Next years Ryanair betting is rightfully headed by this year’s jaw droppingly good winner, Allaho 5/1. If he turns up in similar form next year, there is no doubt he will be hard to beat. That being said, Willie has already earmarked the Champion Chase as a potential target and given the manner in which he won the Ryanair, a step down to two miles could actually suit. With question marks surrounding his participation, it may be worth chancing stablemate Energumene 16/1. He has looked a top class recruit to the chasing ranks in his three novice starts to date, and despite winning a Grade 1 over the minimum trip, I believe he will be even better over further. The Ryanair market often cuts up quite a bit and should he line up here, he won’t be a 16/1 shot. Of those at much bigger prices I would give a mention to The Big Getaway 50/1 who could easily turn into a high-class chaser having had a setback this season. Allart 50/1 is another at the same odds who looked a big price, and his chasing form was franked nicely by Fiddlerontheroof in the Brown Advisory. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rock up here and go off considerably shorter.
Reigning champion, Flooring Porter 6/1, sits top of the Stayers Hurdle antepost betting and given the manner in which he won and also the fact he is only a 6-year-old, he is entitled to improve again next season. 7/1 may well prove value come the day but he’ll have his card marked now and in future races may not get quite such an easy lead. Thyme Hill 12/1 was unlucky to miss this year’s festival and could be the forgotten horse in the market. I’m not convinced he is the most straight forward of rides, but I do believe his style of racing will be well suited to taking on Flooring Porter. Connections have a decision to make with regards to coming here or going chasing. If he were to be confirmed hurdling for the season, 12/1 could look a lovely price. Like Thyme Hill, connections of Vanillier 20/1 have a decision to make with regards to hurdling or chasing. I get the feeling they may be leaning down the chasing route and therefore he may represent quite a risky bet.
The 2022 Gold Cup looks like it could be an absolute cracker. As is the strength of this year’s novice form, 2021 Champion Minella Indo 8/1 and runner up A Plus Tard 12/1 find themselves at third and fourth in the betting. This years Brown Advisory winner, Monkfish 5/1, is the current favourite having looked a potential superstar over fences so far this season. Envoi Allen 8/1 sits second in the betting having taken a fall in the Marsh and subsequently losing his unbeaten streak. From an antepost point of view, all four may attract support at the prices but the two that appeal to me most are Minella Indo and Envoi Allen. Minella Indo was all class this year and with two-time champion, Al Boum Photo, back in third, the form would look strong. His festival form now reads 121 and he appears to be a Cheltenham horse. 8/1 may look a generous price come his defence. Envoi Allen was the other I thought may be worth chancing at this early stage. Unbeaten, prior to his fall, he really could be anything. Touted as a future Gold Cup horse since his bumper days, I’ve no doubt his price will contract after his next win and people begin to forgive him his fall at Cheltenham! Subsequent Marsh winner, Chantry House 25/1, may be one for each way players as he looks sure to improve further for stepping up to three miles. He has plenty to find on the top four in the market though and he wouldn’t be my idea of a great each way bet with the market currently looking so competitive.
My best bets at this stage
Ferny Hollow @12/1 & 16/1 – Champion Hurdle and Arkle
Hollow Games @40/1 – Albert Bartlett
Gars De Sceaux @50/1 & 40/1 – National Hunt Chase and Brown Advisory
Bob Olinger @5/1 – Marsh Novices Chase
By Sam Rideout
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