Friday 23 February 2018

Supreme value bet lies with Al Ferof

Julian Muscat

The parallels are uncanny.

For Dunguib read Cue Card, which is rated banker material for the Stan James Supreme Novices' Hurdle (1.30). The same applied to Dunguib last year after he'd romped to victory in the 2009 Cheltenham bumper -- as Cue Card did last year. And like Dunguib last year, Cue Card must be opposed.

The horse has since done little wrong, faring respectably when mixing it with Champion Hurdle hope Menorah last time out. Yet Cue Card looks a stayer, and Cheltenham's shortened run-in means the famous hill won't change the complexion of races as it did when it was nearly twice as long.

So where to look? With Zaidpour failing to build on early-season promise, Ireland's challenge lacks the strength of previous years. And I've given up on Nicky Henderson's lightly raced store horses, which have a poor record in this race.


Indeed, the Flat-race experience of Gibb River, nominally Henderson's third string, may well outperform better-fancied stablemates Spirit Son and Sprinter Sacre.

However, Gibb River is opposed with Al Ferof, which has Ruby Walsh (pictured above) in the plate. This one beat all bar Cue Card in last year's bumper, has taken well to hurdling and, crucially, can flout plenty of pace. Anything in excess of 10/1 should be seized this morning.

Ireland's best chance of a winner today rests with Quevega, although odds about her winning a third David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle (4.40) will be prohibitive. This is one to watch.

Better value rests with Sunnyhillboy in the Stewart Spinal Research Handicap Chase (2.40). Jonjo O'Neill's horse chased home Great Endeavour at last year's Festival, and his case is compelling. The step up in trip will suit, Tony McCoy jumps aboard and the selection is 8lbs better off with Great Endeavour this time.

And in the later races, an each-way double embracing Poker De Sivola (4.00) and Swing Bill (5.15) should keep us involved right to the bitter end.

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