Form is everything in horse racing, or so we are told. It is, of course, the first thing any punter looks at when picking a runner. However, there are many instances when a major festival is the arena for rediscovering that form – a shot at redemption. The winter national hunt schedule threw up some interesting winners who will surely march on to Cheltenham as big favourites. However, there were a few head-scratching moments from big names, some of whom certainly have the class to bounce back at the Festival (12th – 15th March). Here are five to keep in mind:
To say Nicky Henderson’s 9-year-old had a poor winter is an understatement. Last place in the Betfair Chase was put down to early season rust, but a 7th place when trying to retain the King George VI Chase really rattled the betting markets. Might Bite is now 16/1 for the Gold Cup with Betfair – four times his SP when he finished runner up last year. The question is whether he had a bad couple of races or if there is a permanent decline? 16/1 is enough to take a chance on the former for what is undoubtedly a Gold Cup-winning worthy horse.
It’s really difficult to know what to think about Faugheen over the last couple of years. He disappoints, then does just enough for punters to think he could get back to the top of his game again. William Hill’s favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle is Penhill at 7/1 (some bookies have opted for Apple’s Jade). But it’s still worth remembering that Faugheen, currently available at 12/1, whipped Penhill in the Irish Stayers’ Hurdle just last April. It’s a conundrum, but right now you can catch special Cheltenham betting offers, like free bets, and Faugheen might just be the perfect type to use one on.
If you checked the Cheltenham ante post betting just a month ago, Annamix was the favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. In a way, it was a bit strange, because the five-year-old had never run a competitive race in the UK or Ireland (a sole run in France yielded a second-place finish). However, Willie Mullins and owners the Ricci Family know a superstar when they see one, so not many eyebrows were raised. A second-place finish in Limerick came on his debut, with Annamix looking a little clumsy and unsure. 20/1 is offered from Paddy Power right now. You are going to the reputation of the trainer and owners, but they have delivered time and time again in the past.
Kalashnikov isn’t the perfect horse, but the five-year-old is ultra-consistent (six wins and three seconds from nine starts) in his short career. Switching to chasing in this winter hasn’t been bad, with two wins from three, yet there was disappointment when finishing runner up to Dynamite Dollars in the Wayward Lad Novices Chase last month. Kalashnikov is available at 7/1 for the Arkle with Betfair, whereas Dynamite Dollars and Lalor are at 15/2 and 5/1 respectively. It could be a cracking race, one where Kalashnikov could reassert his brilliance.
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Footpad had a fairly terrible winter, falling in one race and failing to beat Simply Ned in another. However, only Altior had a higher rating as a chaser from Timeform over the last year. The problem, of course, is that he might face the impeccable Altior in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Altior is given 1/2 odds, with Footpad at 9/1 (Betfair) and it’s hard to see anyone get close to Henderson’s super horse. However, if Footpad goes in any other race – Betway offers 8/1 for the Ryanair Chase – Footpad is worth a punt.