Bristol De Mai can put an end to 'Tea' party at Sandown
My recent policy of opposing the Willie Mullins hotpots paid off last week when Alan King's Smad Place won the BetBright Trial Chase at Cheltenham (9/2), although it gave me no pleasure to see Djakadam falling at the tenth fence.
The favourite was trading around 4/9 a day before the race but the big punters just didn't bite and it was interesting to see him drift to almost double those odds, eventually going off at 5/6.
Djakadam was travelling well at the time and it was good to hear Ruby Walsh report this week that the Gold Cup third favourite (behind Vautour and Don Cossack in the betting) has suffered no real ill-effects from a cut which required stitches.
We'll never know how the race would have finished so we'll have to look forward to the rematch in March.
Mullins has said that Djakadam will now head straight to the Festival without another run, although I've always been a bit wary about backing horses at Cheltenham which fell last time out so I went through the stats this week to see if my caution is justified.
I had a look at the record of all Festival participants since 2007 and found that 77 horses had fallen in their previous race - and just one of those went on to win.
That horse was Rivage D'Or which was successful the 2015 Cross Country Glenfarclas Handicap Chase although he wasn't strongly fancied at 16/1 and I reckon the 5/1 ante-post about Djakadam for the Blue Riband event is a little short all considered.
Some trainers have told me that a fall can affect a horse's confidence and if that's true, then Cheltenham is not the ideal place to try get back to winning ways as it attracts the best of the best - and any flaws in a horse's character are ruthlessly exposed.
That said, they are not machines and I appreciate that Mullins has run out of options and doesn't have much choice. While I haven't had an ante-post bet, as it stands I'm still on the side of Don Cossack. Gordon Elliott's star had a confidence-boosting win in the Kinloch Brae last time, having fell in the King George previously at Kempton.
Speaking of Mullins and favourites, I'm sure quite a few of his runners will be fancied at Leopardstown today but with Vautour and Don Poli missing the Irish Gold Cup (3.40), Noel Meade's Road To Riches is the one they have to beat.
With 5lbs in hand on official ratings, a price of 4/5 looks about right although I'm going to make a bet on the nine-year-old somewhat less expensive by throwing him into a double with a Premier League match (see below).
At Sandown, the Nick Williams-trained Tea For Two is quite popular around 5/4 for the Grade One Scilly Isles Novices' Chase (2.25) but I reckon this is a bit tighter than the market suggests and there may be some value elsewhere.
Tea For Two's jockey is Williams' stepdaughter Lizzie Kelly, who made history in December by becoming the first female to win a Grade One in Britain, and Kelly reckons Sandown's fences will suit her mount's style.
It would be a great achievement for her to do the double but Nigel Twiston-Davies' Bristol De Mai is almost certain to be breathing down their neck and could be the one to side with at 13/8 or thereabouts.
As his trainer said this week, the five-year-old barely came out of a canter when winning a Grade Two at Haydock recently and we are still unsure just how good either of these horses are.
In the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las, a chance is taken on Sirop De Menthe representing the small Sue Gardner operation with daughter Lucy, who claims 3lbs, doing the steering as usual.
A two-time handicap winner in November, he has climbed steadily in the ratings to a career-high mark of 134 but he's been stepping up to the plate at each time of asking, and may yet have more to come. Priced at 10/1 at the time of writing, he can be taken each-way.
Getting back to Leopardstown, I'm surprised to see Jer's Girl priced as high as 10/1 in places for the opening Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle (12.55).
While Aidan O'Brien's favourite Ivanovich Gorbatov certainly deserves his place at the top of the market, the selection has put in a couple of decent shifts over timber and her experience and sex-allowance might just give her an edge.
Expected to go off around 14/1, Anteros offers each-way backers plenty of value in the Grade Three Betfred Mobile Heroes Handicap Hurdle at Sandown (3.0).
Sophie Leech's charge put in a career best at Cheltenham last time on New Year's Day when third to Singlefarmpayment in a decent handicap off a mark of 131 under Paddy Brennan (left) - but the handicapper hasn't been too harsh by raising him by just 1lb.
The Nicky Richards-trained Baywing deserves to be favourite, but early odds of 7/2 seem a bit short. He's now won four handicaps in a row but I reckon the assessor has finally caught up with him and a rating of 135 for a racing weight of 10st 11lbs may do its job of holding him back.
12.55 Leopardstown: Jer's Girl
1.55 Leopardstown: Bellshill
2.05 Ffos Las: Sirop De Menthe (e/w)
2.25 Sandown: Bristol De Mai
2.30 Leopardstown: Monksland
3.0 Sandown: Anteros (e/w)
3.40 Leopardstown: Road To Riches
Do the double
Priced around 11/10, Arsenal are worth a punt to beat Bournemouth tomorrow afternoon. While you’ve got to hand it to The Cherries for coming so far in a few short years, they’re a little inconsistent at times and may struggle against Arsene Wenger’s side which are still 10/30 to lift the title.
Road To Riches is short at 4/5 for the Irish Gold Cup (3.40 Leopardstown) but he can win this with a bit in hand even though Noel Meade has described the price as “stupid”.
A racecourse gallop at Punchestown last Sunday confirmed he’s in good shape and it’s my view that the market has called this one just right.