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Wednesday 24 November 2021

Cheltenham 2022: Making a Case Against the Ante-Post Favourites

Ask any experienced punter about ante-post betting and they’ll tell you it’s something of an art form. But it’s not an easy skill to master. What’s true in November is not necessarily true in March. And if you don’t have NRNB (non-runner no bet), there’s a fair chance you’ve kissed your cash goodbye regardless of the result of the race.

But there are market movers across the winter months for the big races in spring, particularly Cheltenham. Indeed, much to the chagrin of some racing fans, the entire jumps season seems geared towards Cheltenham. Yet, a steady trickle of money comes in on the Cheltenham ante-post markets, and we wonder whether anyone is getting sucked into backing short-priced favourites?

Let’s start by talking about the most important factor – precedence. In terms of statistics, we rarely see horses who have led the ante-post markets at the beginning of the season carry that through to Cheltenham.

Early ante-post favourites statistically unlikely to win

Consider the four winners of the feature races last March: Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle), Put the Kettle On (Champion Chase), Flooring Porter (Stayers’ Hurdle), and Minella Indo (Gold Cup). Not one of those horses led the ante-post markets for their respective races in 2020. Yes, Honeysuckle went off as 11/10 favourite, but the momentum only started gathering for the mare after the Irish Champion Hurdle in February.

On the other hand, Put the Kettle On was still available at 40/1 with some firms for the Champion Chase as we reached the new year. The Champion Chase can be particularly gruesome for backers of favourites as a general rule. 2017 saw Douvan flop at micro-odds of 2/9, Defi De Seuil finished second last when going off at 2/5 in 2020, and Chacun Pour Soi failed to deliver at 8/13 in 2021.

So, how do you make the case right now for Shishkin, who is currently priced at 5/4 for the 2022 Champion Chase? Nobody is doubting that Nicky Henderson’s horse isn’t a class act. Shishkin is on an eight-race winning streak, a run that includes the 2020 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle last March.

Yet we haven’t seen Shishkin this season (the Tingle Creek Chase on 4th December is likely), and we can’t quite shake the feeling that anyone backing the 7yo is playing with fire. Nube Negra, a fine winner at the Shloer Chase last weekend, looks a craftier pick at 10/1, and you can’t rule out Chacun Pour Soi bouncing back at 6/1.

The Gold Cup can be difficult to work out

What then about the big one – the Cheltenham Gold Cup? It’s always a puzzle. And while it’s not exactly a lottery, you might want to look at the tips for last year’s Gold Cup. Minella Indo, the 2021 winner, is the current favourite at 5/1, but that feels more like a case of someone having to be favourite. If you watched Minella Indo’s season debut at Down Royal, you’d be left scratching your head as to how this horse leads the Gold Cup markets.

While it’s a bit early in the season to be backing Gold Cup horses with any conviction, we would be much more comfortable having our money on Chantry House (14/1) or even two-time winner Al Boum Photo at 20/1. The latter is just 9yo and certainly not done. Willie Mullins used to keep Al Boum Photo lightly raced in the lead up to those victories in 2019 and 2020, but he recently said we would be seeing a bit more of him as he wanted the horse “battle-hardened”.

Perhaps the overarching theme here is to have patience. For all of us, it should be a big no-no to back any horse that has not yet run this season. Moreover, it’s almost certainly a better option to back a few longshots rather than pile in on a short-priced favorite. If a horse is sitting at evens now, there’s only so much the bookmakers can shave off that price. And as we saw with Put the Kettle On last season, you can still get value in the new year.

Monday 22 November 2021

Beech Road

Owned by Tony Geake and trained by Toby Balding, Beech Road was a highly successful hurdler and steeplechaser, probably best remembered for winning the Champion Hurdle at the 1989 Cheltenham Festival at odds of 50/1. At the start of the 1988/89 National Hunt season, the intention was to send Beech Road over fences and, after two unsuccessful starts over hurdles, he duly made his steeplechasing debut at Newton Abbot on Boxing Day. He was in second place when unseating his rider, Rae Guest, behind odds-on winner Sabin Du Loir, which led to Guest being replaced by Graham McCourt on his next start at Cheltenham. Sent off even money favourite in a three-runner novices' chase, Beech Road was upsides eventual winner Waterloo Boy when falling at the final fence, but lay motionless on the Prestbury Park turf for 15 minutes before rising to his feet.

That spelt the end of an abortive chasing career, at least for the time being. Two starts later, returned to hurdles and re-united with Guest, Beech Road won the National Spirit Challenge Trophy at Fontwell and, in so doing, beat Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Vagador, who was conceding 12lb by 20 lengths, unchallenged. Nevertheless, despite arriving at Cheltenham 'in the form of his life', according to Guest, he was still sent off 50/1 twelfth choice of the 15 runners, behind 11/8 favourite Kribensis. Settled off a fast pace, Beech Road was among the back-markers at the top of the hill, but made good headway on the outside from the second last flight, led at the last and ran on strongly up the hill to beat Celtic Chief by 2 lengths.