C heltenham is undoubtedly the largest ante-post bonanza on the calendar. However, the vagaries of the ante-post discipline (surely an oxymoron) came into some lucid focus this week in the case of Starluck and the Arkle.
Advised in this column last week at 25/1 -- having earlier been available as high as 40/1 -- in anticipation of a winning chasing bow at Huntingdon on Thursday, the winning debut duly materialised and Arkle odds predictably slashed wholesale to as low as 7/1. However, having booked AP McCoy for Thursday's mission on the basis that "he had no ride in the Arkle", connections' reaction in the immediate aftermath of the impressive introduction was to consider skipping the Arkle altogether in favour of Aintree and Punchestown.
The reaction predictably produced an encyclopedia of comments on the chatrooms and racing forums -- not all fit for encyclopedic inclusion -- with the volumes under the hoary old chestnut of "connections having disdainful regard for punters" countered in equal measure with the similarly overblown "stop the whining, you know the ante-post risks".
In Wimbledon terms, the contest went to five sets and was game for game well into double-digits in the fifth when bad light stopped play.
Interestingly, a new website called Oddsfutures.com has just been launched by two Irish entrepreneurs offering a concept which enables punters to trade on market fluctuations as opposed to event outcomes. So you buy a horse at a price if you think it will contract, or sell if you think it will drift. Therefore you profit on your ability to predict markets as opposed to winners. All too late of course to have cashed out on Starluck but it might help if you find an early springer in one of the Festival handicaps whose entries were also announced on Thursday.
Until the weights are published, I will continue to stick to the conditions races in pursuit of any remaining ounce of value left in the markets and the race that holds most interest in that regard is the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
If Cheltenham is the Olympics of jump racing then the Queen Mother is the 100 metres final. To succeed you need a horse that can cope with the course's unique demands at relentless speed and zero margin for error. Horses that perform well under the conditions tend to repeat the dose. Hardly surprising then that two previous winners of the race, Master Minded and Big Zeb, dominate the market. The two miles at Cheltenham is a very particular test and even horses that are genuine Grade One performers elsewhere, Twist Magic for example, can lose that ability in translation at the Prestbury circuit.
Of this year's Queen Mother field, Golden Silver, a multiple Grade One winner elsewhere, has failed to deliver on his visits to Cheltenham. Outside of the front two in the market, I have reservations about many others. Why Somersby isn't running in the Ryanair is a mystery and a wasted opportunity in my book. Woolcombe Folly still has to prove it outside handicap company. Captain Cee Bee didn't perform on the Cheltenham stage in the Arkle last year and Tataniano is in a race against time to be ready.
The forgotten horse of the piece is undoubtedly Sizing Europe which I fancy to massively outrun his price of 14/1. Punters have short memories, aided and abetted by the miscued experiment to stretch Sizing to three miles this season.
It started off well enough with a run behind race-fit China Rock quickly followed by an admirable four-length second to the best three-miler of modern times, Kauto Star. However, the planned trip to Kempton's King George went horribly wrong and whilst the horse got there, the races didn't.
Not until January 15 at least, by which time Sizing Europe was home in his box. All of which meant that the horse remained without a race between Down Royal at the start of November and the Tied Cottage at the end of January. Under those circumstances, and in unfavoured heavy
ground, a third to Golden Silver and Big Zeb was as much as could be expected.
What the interim exploits overshadow is that less than a year ago he was an impressive Arkle winner and Arkle winners have a superb record in the Queen Mother the following year. Moscow Flyer, Azertyuiop and Voy Por Ustedes all graduated to success in recent years.
Even when Arkle winners haven't won, the last 12 Arkle winners to contest the Queen Mother the following year have finished placed at worst (Forpadydeplasterer second last year).
Sizing Europe has been to Cheltenham just three times. As well as the Arkle, he has won a Greatwood and traded very short in a Champion Hurdle before going wrong after the second last and at 14/1 this year he is simply overpriced.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
Sizing Europe 14/1
Sunday Indo Sport