Over the last few weeks we’ve seen the likes of Nicky Henderson, Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins run some of their big guns, who are no doubt bound for Cheltenham in March – so I think it’s the perfect time to look at how the betting is shaping up for some of the top races at the Festival.

But first, let’s see how my early antepost picks, that I put up in the middle of October, are getting on.

I suppose we should get the likely disappointment out of the way first. It feels like the writing is on the wall for our 20/1 selection in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, Gypsy Island, who was a glaring emission from Peter Fahey’s stable tour with the Racing Post this week.

It’s not completely dead in the water – yet – but it’s certainly not looking great. The good news is, it only gets better from here.

Starting with Ferny Hollow, who I tipped up at 10/1 for the Arkle. I predicted he’d shorten into about 8/1 if/when Willie Mullins confirmed he was to go chasing, before being cut further – ‘into 5/1 or shorter’ – after a likely winning chase debut.

Well, confirmation and a winning debut later and Ferny Hollow is 4/1 second-favourite, behind stablemate Appreciate It, for the Arkle.

I thought it was a very pleasing ‘chase debut too, coming back from a season-ending injury and defying a 380-day lay-off to beat Grade 2-winning hurdler Coeur Sublime by four lengths.

After a novicey first few jumps, I thought he was electric at the final couple of fences, showing plenty of speed at the finish. Willie said he was was very happy with the performance post-race, and owners Cheveley Park have said the Arkle ‘has to be the aim’ for the horse. A great start to the list, then!Β 

What about Stattler, who I put up at 14/1 for the National Hunt Chase?

He hasn’t run yet, but he’s shortened into 10/1 after Willie Mullins said, and I quote, “he will go novice chasing this season and looks an out-and-out stayer, so the National Hunt Chase would spring to mind for him” in his stable tour the other month.

Stattler has been declared for a beginners chase over 2m5f at Punchestown tomorrow, so let’s hope he runs well … but not too well!

Finally, saving the best till last, we have Ginto, who I put up at 40/1 for the Albert Bartlett.

Since then he’s won a maiden hurdle at Navan with ease, before claiming Grade 2 honours over course and distance in the first week of December, beating the highly-rated Eric Bloodaxe by a mere 11 lengths.

He’s now 10/1 at Betfred for the Albert Bartlett.

So we’ve got the value, and he’s already shown he is Graded quality – the only question now, and admittedly it’s a very big question, is does Ginto go to the Bartlett (3m) or end up in the Ballymore (2m 4f)?

In normal circumstances I don’t think this would even be a question, as Ginto looks every bit a three-miler to me. But because Gordon Elliott trains and Bective Stud owns both Ginto and the current 8/1 antepost favourite for the Bartlett in Hollow Games, it’s a tricky one.

The owners have already said they plan on splitting the two up at Cheltenham, if they both make it there, so someone’s got to give.

Both have entries in the Lawlor’s of Naas, a Grade 1 over 2m 4f in the new year, but Elliott has said only one will stand their ground – I suppose that decision will tell us more about their potential Festival targets.

So that’s the state of play in regards to our early antepost tips, but what about some of the other big races in March?

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, my favourite race of the year, is really starting to take shape. Nicky Henderson has unleashed a couple of potential superstars of the future in Jonbon (3/1f) and Constitution Hill (4/1).

I’m on the former, at a whopping 33/1, but I have to say I was so taken by the debut of Constitution Hill at Sandown, beating a very decent yardstick in Might I by a whopping 14 lengths, that I’m already a little worried.

Meanwhile, the runner-up in last year’s Champion Bumper, Kilcruit (8/1), made a disappointing start to life over obstacles with a 10-length defeat to Henry De Bromhead’s Largy Debut (14/1).

Is the latter simply very good, or was the former disappointing – or both? We’re going to need more evidence to decide that one.

We’ve also seen Dysart Dynamo, who is very highly-regarded at Willie Mullins’ yard, make a very taking debut over hurdles and he’s now 10/1 for the Festival’s curtain raiser – although he’s also 12/1 for the Ballymore as there’s every chance he might be upped in trip this season.

The Champion Hurdle is already looking like another penalty kick for the outstanding Honeysuckle (8/11f), who made it a perfect 13 wins from 13 races when looking arguably better than ever in the Hatton’s Grace at the end of November.

Cheltenham Festival Betting Odds

Her closest rival in the betting is Sharjah (8/1), who was impressive in the Morgiana at Punchestown but has been defeated by Henry De Bromhead’s mare on four occasions now.

The Champion Chase market has experienced a big shake-up in recent weeks.

Chacun Pour Soi and Nube Negra have both drifted out to 12/1 after disappointing in the Tingle Creek, won by Greaneteen (7/1), while Energumene has been backed into 5/2 after an impressive return in the Grade 2 Hilly Way over in Ireland.

Shishkin is yet to be seen in open company after a couple of minor health issues over the last few weeks, but remains the 7/4 favourite – while Envoi Allen (16/1) has entered the picture with Henry De Bromhead dropping him down to 2m1f over Christmas after disappointing in the John Durkan. He has plenty to prove now, however.

For the Ryanair, Allaho enhanced his claims at making it consecutive victories with his gutsy win in the John Durkan. He’s 5/2 now, and seems to have very few challengers at this stage – while we’re still waiting for someone to make their mark on the Stayers’ Hurdle division.

The Gold Cup picture is warming up, however. A Plus Tard (3/1) was brilliant at Haydock in the Betfair Chase, while reigning champ Minella Indo (5/1) made a satisfactory return earlier in the season and will certainly get better with every run. Chantry House (10/1) looks a player to me too.

Frankly, I could sit here and talk Cheltenham all day, but there’s going to be plenty of opportunity to do that throughout the season. The festive period is going to be incredibly informative, so I have no doubt I’ll be back at some point in the new year with another update.

Owen McMahon

Today’s Horse Racing Odds