Maktu best option for welsh value
Typical, isn't it? No sooner has the jumps season engaged top gear than it is halted in its tracks. There is no end to the whiteout in sight, but the good news is that winter's early arrival should ensure minimal interruption to the Christmas racing feast. Unless, of course, the Arctic conditions persist -- in which case there will be no mince pies for Santa beneath my chimney.
One way to stay focused in the freeze-up is to anticipate those festive feasts, notably the traditional double comprising the William Hill King George VI Chase on St Stephen's Day and the Coral Welsh National 24 hours later. The two races are like chalk and cheese, both in the nature of the test and by their ante-post betting markets. Kauto Star dominates the King George, but the Chepstow contest is wide open.
Dream Alliance is expected to bid for a repeat of last year's triumph, when he obliged at 20/1. He fitted the profile of past Welsh National winners in that he had previously run well in the Chepstow mud, but he is desperately out of sorts this time round.
Synchronised disputes favouritism, although it remains to be seen how he rebounds from his gruelling victory in the Midlands National nine months ago. The young gelding was out on his feet at the finish, and the form of Jonjo O'Neill's charge leaves something to be desired. For all that, Synchronised still makes more appeal than recent Hennessy runner-up Burton Port, which will surely not be asked to carry his welter burden in this race.
Watamu Bay, from the yard of Paul Nicholls (below), is short of experience. Surprisingly beaten in a novices' chase at Chepstow two months ago, he has since landed a pair of ordinary events in small fields at Exeter. This looks too tough an assignment for the raw seven-year-old.
Irish Grand National winner Bluesea Cracker stays well and acts on soft ground. However, the tame way she folded at Cheltenham last time, after travelling particularly well, does not inspire confidence. A much better option is Maktu, which is seriously overpriced at 16/1 with Blue Square and Skybet.
A thorough stayer, Maktu improved dramatically towards the end of last season. He then resumed in fine fettle at Haydock last month, when he just yielded to a progressive opponent. That race should have primed him perfectly and he should get in off a low weight. A decent each-way bet is recommended.
Cue Card carries burden of bumper winner curse
Looking further ahead to Cheltenham in March, I can't see why Cue Card is so short for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. The Festival's opening race often proves a graveyard for well-backed favourites -- witness Dunguib nine months ago -- and Cue Card looks one to avoid at a best-priced 5/2.
Like Dunguib, Cue Card won the Cheltenham bumper in rare style. Yet winners of that bumper have a shocking record when reappearing at the Festival 12 months later.
Despite two effortless victories over the minimum trip to date, Cue Card would be far better served by stepping up to two and a half miles. And talk of a Champion Hurdle bid is pie in the sky.
On which subject, Binocular resumed his propensity to disappoint when well-beaten behind Peddlers Cross at Newbury last week. That he remains favourite to defend his crown is entirely due to the brilliance of his Champion Hurdle victory nine months ago. This frustrating character will hopefully show himself in a better light next time.
Time For Rupert is clear favourite for the RSA Chase, despite jumping ponderously on his recent debut over fences at Cheltenham. This crack staying hurdler must sharpen his act, but even if he did, no self-respecting punter could contemplate betting in this race ahead of Mikael D'Haguenet's imminent chasing debut. Until then, a watching brief is advised.
Although the Festival is four months distant, I took my first ante-post position after Finian's Rainbow made a successful chasing debut at Newbury eight days ago. Henderson's horse looked like beating Peddlers Cross in the Neptune Investments Novices' Hurdle until he emptied before the last.
Stamina looked an issue then, but it won't apply when Finian's Rainbow lines up for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy Chase over two miles in March. Odds of 12/1, freely available now, will collapse if he wins his next start as anticipated. He is a horse with real gears.