The magic of Cheltenham has dimmed after a frenetic four days at Prestbury Park but the National Hunt excitement lives on, as we’re treated to an ante-post look at 2017.
There are plenty of markets already up for next year’s Festival and those who are keen to strike while the iron’s hot and take advantage of a memorable week, you can sample the delights today.
Here, the Betfred Blog have taken an early look at four races from next year, to make a Cheltenham 2017 ante-post Lucky 15!
Arkle – Min @ 7/1
We begin with the Arkle and a horse who made headlines before Cheltenham 2016, in the very intriguing Min. He had been well-supported for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle before every racing in Britain after a series of very bullish gallop reports.
He was the horse who was backed to get punters off to a flyer in Tuesday’s curtain-raiser and although he was beaten by Altior, he actually lost little in defeat. He travelled strongly for Ruby Walsh but Altior eased up on the outside under a fine ride from Nico de Boinville, before he pulled readily clear after the final flight.
The Nicky Henderson horse looks a real talent and the fact that Min stuck on gamely to keep challengers at bay for second on only his third start for Willie Mullins suggest he posseses plenty of ability.
He has the scope to possibly improve over a fence given his size and as Mullins and Rich Ricci have enough quality in their hurdling ranks with Faugheen, Annie Power, Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini looking set to stay over the smaller obstacles.
This means there may well be a chance for Min to step into the lofty hoof prints of Douvan and follow on from the Supreme Novices Hurdle to the Arkle and if he can go close to matching the horse’s talent, then he will be in for a huge season.
Yorkhill heads the betting for the Arkle, though after impressing at two-and-a-half miles, it may not be in the plans to drop him back to 2m if he does go over fences and as such, the 7/1 for Min looks very appealing.
Champion Hurdle – Altior @ 8/1
If we’re backing the Supreme form to be strong with the runner-up getting the nod for the Arkle, it makes sense to side with the winner and his possible tilt at the Champion Hurdle, doesn’t it?
Altior created a lasting impression in the curtain-raiser, as he travelled majestically under Nico de Boinville before forging clear impressively on the flat. He has plenty of flat speed, a natural action over hurdles and an abundance of class.
Despite Mullins’ recent dominance in the race, which has seen him win four of the last six renewals, Nicky Henderson knows what it takes to ready one for the big day, with recent (enough) winners Binocular and Punjabi.
He nearly performed a miracle of sorts as he trained My Tent Of Yours to somewhere near his peak, to ran Annie Power close to take second in the Champion Hurdle after an absence of 703-days. Altior will hopefully have a steadier preparation and if this is the case, then there is no reason to suggest he won’t line up with real claims of toppling yet another Mullins/Ricci charge.
The problem with Mullins’ clan is that he has so many potential horses who could turn up, it’s hard to be totally confident about selecting who will line up on the day. So, with this in mind, Altior, who is 5/5 over hurdles, could be a very backable price at a current 8/1.
He has proven his ability to handle the potentially tricky Cheltenham task, as he is 2/2 at the course and his seven-length demolition of a hot-looking Supreme field suggests he has the ability to go mightily close as he progresses as a seven-year-old.
All in all, he looks very likely to turn up, it looks extremely likely that he has the potential to go close, so at an each-way price of 8/1, he looks a solid addition to any ante-post ventures.
Champion Chase – Un De Sceaux @ 8/1
Sprinter Sacre brought the house down with an emotional and rather impressive success at Cheltenham but it may be worth looking elsewhere ahead of next season’s Champion Chase.
Sprinter cantered into the lead but he was tiring markedly in the latter stages, after putting the race to bed. Henderson suggested he may be tentatively looked after before returning to defend his crown but given he will be an 11-year-old, it may be siding with one of the younger horses.
Douvan would be of huge interest if he turned up, given he is arguably the most talented horse in training at present, but again there will be slight question marks about his potential Cheltenham engagement, so it could be with siding with this year’s runner-up, Un De Sceaux.
He looks sure to stay at the trip for another crack at the race and although he may have failed to deliver at odds-on at Cheltenham this year, he still ran well enough to suggest he will be a player next year with very few looking set to emerge from the novice brigade.
After travelling powerfully for a long way, Walsh remained motionless as Sprinter Sacre powered past approaching two out. He did get after him but the response wasn’t instant and he looked set for third until he ran on again towards the line, to snatch back second.
He will have learned a lot from that effort and as he will be returning as a nine-year-old, it would be foolish to rule out further improvement. He is still a very high-class horse and one positive to take away, will have to be his jumping.
He jumped soundly the whole way around before just failing to quicken as expected. Still, his current 8/1 price for next year could look large, should he score with ease on his return next year. He remains with potential for better and at an each-way price, he could well go close again.
Gold Cup – Thistlecrack @ 8/1
The final member of our quartet for Cheltenham 2017 comes in the shape of impressive World Hurdle winner, Thistelcrack.
Colin Tizzard’s gelding has been one of the most improved horses of the year, as he has built on a steady start to remain unbeaten this season, with two Grade 1’s and two Grade 2’s in his four starts.
His biggest test looked set to arrive at Cheltenham and he won with plenty in hand, travelling majestically for Tom Scudamore before readily pulling clear of the classy Alpha Des Obeaux.
He has the scope to improve over fences with his frame and there has been plenty of talk about following in Coneygree’s hoof prints in going for the Gold Cup in his novice chase season.
If that is the case, then he has to be of real interest with the potential for all the juice in his current price disappear if he makes a successful transition to the bigger obstacles as expected, given stable reports about previous schooling sessions.
There is no question marks about the trip, as could be the case with a number of potential runners in next year’s blue riband, while he simply oozes class, so he has to rank seriously on the shortlist.
The Tizzard’s know what it takes to ready a horse for the big day and Cue Card was in the process of running a huge race in the Gold Cup until coming to grief three out, so there will be extra incentive to get Thistlecrack ready for next year’s big day with potential redemption for the stable on the line.
He ranks as one of the most exciting prospects in training and after last year’s victories in the World Hurdle and Cleeve Hurdle, there is no concern about him getting up the Cheltenham hill.
There is obvious risk with the fact he is yet to tackle a fence in public but at 8/1, he could be worth chancing with so many twists-and-turns in the Gold Cup picture so to come.
Odds subject to change.