The Cheltenham Festival is a less than 100 days away and the action really has started to crank up a notch on both sides of the Irish Sea. Karl Hedley has taken a cursory look at some of this seasons’ earlier trial races to try and identify whether the reaction in the markets was justified.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
There was a significant positive move in the market for the Cheltenham Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as Facile Vega made his seasonal reappearance at Fairyhouse at the beginning of the month. Generally available at 7/4 prior to the race without having jumped a hurdle in public, the consummate ease with which he won it saw him attract plenty of market attention. He is now a best priced 5/4 (Betfair, Betfred, Coral, Paddy Power, William Hill & Betway) to give Willie Mullins an eighth win in the race since 1995. The son of Walk In The Park and Quevega won all of his bumpers including a Grade 2 at Leopardstown and the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in addition to the Grade 1 bumper when signing off for the season at Punchestown last April.
He flicked his way through every hurdle and never looked back as he dictated the pace from the outset. Paul Townend kept things extremely simple and eased his mount home for a fourteen length success. He will now be given a short break until the Christmas period when he will most likely be seen again in the Future Champions Novice at Leopardstown horse racing. At this stage he looks the Irish banker and should he win the upcoming Grade One, his price will most likely contract further.
Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
Constitution Hill solidified his position at the head of the Champion Hurdle odds market with an authoritative display on his seasonal reappearance. The Nicky Henderson trained five-year-old surged clear of his rivals when winning the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle at the end of November. Last years’ Supreme Novice winner was in no mood to be denied as he put a dozen lengths between himself and stable-mate and also former Champion Hurdler, Epatante.
Having been as big as 3/1 following his win in the Supreme last year, he is now a best priced 1/3 to win this coveted prize with the likes of Betfair, Betfred and Paddy Power, Bet 365, William Hill and Boylesports. Such is the confidence behind him, one firm (Skybet) are still only offering odds of 4/6 that he wins the Champion Hurdle by five lengths or more.
The market firmed even more in his favour as wonder mare Honeysuckle lost her unbeaten streak when contesting the Hatton’s Grace hurdle earlier this month. She travelled well enough for a long while but found it all a bit much in the closing stages having virtually capitulated her lead all too readily when being passed by both Klassical Dream and Teahupoo over the two-miles and three furlongs.
Henry De Bromhead is already making noises that Honeysuckle may well be aimed at the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle instead as this is most likely her last season in training. If she does line up for the main event though, she is still one of the best horses in training and the 10/1 on offer with the sponsors Unibet and Grosvenor Sport looks extremely good each way value. A lot will depend on how well she goes in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown races in a few weeks’ time.
Queen Mother Champion chase
Energumene seems to have been around forever, but he is still only an eight-year-old. He has been handled with kid gloves by Willie Mullins throughout the last few seasons but he still managed to win this race by eight-and-a-half lengths last year before signing off for with a resounding win in the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown. He is undoubtedly a high class individual but the home contingent is unlikely to be scared off given his fragility.
Energumene was sent off at prohibitive odds in the Hilly Way Chase just last weekend and he duly justified that strong support under a perfect ride from Paul Townend. Always travelling well at the head of the field, he had his rivals toiling four from home. He cruised home to record an effortless success. As big as 4/1 after last years’ win, the current Champion is now best priced at Evens with William Hill to make it back-to-back wins in this race.
His chief rival Edwardstone won the Arkle at last years’ festival beating Gabynako by over four lengths. He has already graced the winners’ enclosure this year as he ran away with a competitive renewal of the Betfair Tingle Creek at Sandown. He put some nine lengths between himself, Greaneteen and a further six-lengths back to Shishkin. He is a best priced 5/2 with Boylesports and William Hill to make it consecutive Cheltenham Festival successes and he has to be considered a definite threat.
Through the oncoming weeks, Punters Lounge will give regular updates on any further Horse Racing ante-post market moves.