With the jump season now in full swing as we head towards the festive period, we just couldn’t resist the chance to put a little Lucky 15 together ahead of the big meeting in March!
The Cheltenham appetite has already been whet with some top horses already making their re-appearance for the 2016/17 season, and plenty more yet to come.
A few of those have made our four ante-post picks, so feast your eyes on this massive ante-post lucky!
Supreme Novice Hurdle – Jenkins @ 10/1
The first race of the big meeting at Cheltenham – marked at its beginning by the famous ‘roar’ – is the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle! Ran over 2m½f, this contest is open to any horse that has not won a hurdle race prior to this season, and has been the launchpad for the career of many an equine superstar.
Since 2013, this race has been largely dominated by Closutton raider Willie Mullins. His charges have played a key role in all of the four recent running’s; Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan took the race in 2013, 2014 and 2015, before hype horse Min was backed into favouritism last year but beaten into second.
The star to end that Mullins streak was of course Altior, trained by Nicky Henderson, and he could have another gem up his sleeve in the form of Jenkins. The promising four-year-old looked to have landed a serious pot over at Punchestown last season, when holding a monstrous lead only two furlongs from home in the Goffs Land Rover Bumper. As it happened, he was to be collared on the line by Couer De Lion, but the class he possesses was evident.
His first outing over hurdles last week saw him beat off what appears a fairly smart bunch despite not jumping with much fluency. His class was evident between the obstacles, with an effortless high cruising speed and an ability to put the race to bed without getting out of second gear. Henderson is delighted with his mount’s progress and – with the Supreme the obvious target – taking the 10/1 now could help start your Cheltenham campaign off firmly on the right hoof come March!
Champion Hurdle – Faugheen @ 5/2
Tuesday’s marquee race is the prestigious Champion Hurdle, and a terrific plot lies within this year’s renewal as a returning champion seeks to regain his crown.
That said, there’s no guarantees with Willie Mullins that Faugheen will even end up in this race. At the time of writing, the World Hurdle is being touted as a possible alternative to keep him and stablemate Annie Power apart – but it’s difficult to see ‘The Machine’ not lining up at the scene of his most glorious day.
The last time we saw Rich Ricci’s hurdling superstar in the public eye was when he obliterated Arctic Fire and Nichols Canyon in the Irish Champion Hurdle in January this year. A 15-length victory had him a general show of 1/4 for the 2016 renewal, but a cruel tendon injury was to intervene. The public were denied one of the highlights of the national hunt season, and that will surely stir his camp up to rectifying that miss.
At the moment, the market suggests that a decision is still to be made on which of the Ricci pair chase a second crown. However, the value surely lies with the Machine.
More options surely lay open for re-routing Annie Power, especially when you factor in a reluctance to push her fragile body too far due to a “deep love” from Rich Ricci’s wife Susannah – the actual owner of the mare.
Taking the 5/2 on Faugheen is a value punt given his achievements.
Triumph Hurdle – Landofhopeandglory @ 8/1
You might remember this horse for his time with Aiden O’Brien, but these days Landofhopeandglory is enjoying life over hurdles for the flat trainers son and former jockey Joseph O’Brien.
Joseph trained his first winner at Cheltenham last March when Ivanovich Gorbatov (under AP O’Brien officially) beat Apple’s Jade to the line in the Triumph Hurdle.
That got him off and running as one of the game’s top young trainers, and it looks as though he’ll return to defend the race crown again this year, but this time with Landofhopeandglory.
He’s lived up to heavy favouritism in his two starts over hurdles so far at Fairyhouse and Punchestown, and looks the most likely of Joseph’s clan to be targeted at this one.
He’s certainly an exciting prospect over hurdles, and if his Dad’s record on the flat is anything to go by, Joseph will be lining up a few winners at Cheltenham!
Gold Cup – Cue Card @ 6/1
Last season’s jump sensation Cue Card made a disappointing return to the new season when third at Wetherby, but a perfect jumping performance last time out in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, means he’s in the driving seat for another shot at the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
That Haydock win saw him beat 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree to the line, and although that was Coneygree’s first outing since his Cheltenham triumph, Cue Card proved he had all the credentials to win one of the biggest races of all.
He came so close back in March too, because after winning the Betfair and then the King George VI at Kempton on Boxing Day, the Triple Crown was well on. However, he came crashing down when stalking the leaders in the Gold Cup – but you have to feel that had he stayed upright, we’d be talking about a Gold Cup winner here.
He’s expected to take the same route once again this year, with the lure of the £1 million on offer for a successful Triple Crown bid, and all that could stand in his way is stablemate Thistlecrack.
But at this stage in their careers, you’d have to say the experience over fences (JUST!) makes an early ante-post bet go in the favour of Cue Card.