Value At Risk and Blaklion look great each-way propositions for what is always a tricky race to predict at the Cheltenham Festival.
The line-up for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle is normally one of the harder ones to predict as several of the possibles have other options at the festival. That makes ante post betting a bit of a minefield especially without the “non-runner no-bet” concession on our side.
So, it is with some trepidation that I tackle the 3m novices’ at the festival and make no apologies for putting up a couple of runners to back at this stage, with a view to topping up on them once they are confirmed as definite runners, albeit at likely shorter prices.
That said, this race looks the only plausible option left for Dan Skelton’s VALUE AT RISK, who is amongst the market leaders at 12/1. He would have been shorter had he not met with defeat in his prep on Cheltenham Trials day, when going by three-quarters of a length to Ordo Ab Chao over an extended 2m4f.
Given he was sent off as 11/10 favourite based on a previous impressive Newbury victory, that performance has to go down as slightly disappointing but the slow pace (time was 31s slower than standard) was all against him, and it was encouraging to see him stick his head out and regain second close home. That the first four all finished within two-and-a-half lengths of each other is confirmation that the race turned into a sprint for the finish.
Staying is his game which is no surprise his dam, Miss Orchestra, is a former winner of the Midlands National and he will get the three miles of the Albert Bartlett, which is always run a good pace, standing on his head. A smart bumper performer who gained further experience of Cheltenham when running in last season’s Champion Bumper, finishing 13th of 22 following a bumpy passage through the race, he looks to have plenty going for him and I can see him being half his current odds on the day of the race.
The other one to back now is BLAKLION at 14/1. He too met with defeat in his prep when finding Caracci Apache a head too good at Doncaster, but jockey error was to blame. Had Ryan Hatch been more patient on him rather than going hammer and tongs with the eventual third Zeroeshadesofgrey from the moment they turned into the long straight, the result may have been different.
Connections will have learned from that and the six-year-old is better judged on his 11-length defeat of Anteros over three miles at the Cheltenham International meeting in December. That was his second look at the course as he’d finished second to Parlour Games over an inadequate 2m5f previously and it’s no coincidence that six Albert Bartlett winners had raced at least twice around Cheltenham, with five having won. That also applies to Value At Risk of course.
The ante post market is headed by Willie Mullins’ most likely representative and last season’s Champion Bumper fourth Black Hercules, who impressed when making all at Cork last time. He probably didn’t beat much that day but is respected nonetheless, although his current price of 8/1 is more based on who trains him than any standout piece of form. Gordon Elliott’s No More Heroes was disputing favouritism before getting turned over in his prep at Leopardstown. He could bounce back but he will need to brush up his jumping and he may need testing ground to be seen at his best. He’s one to save on should conditions be particularly testing in March.