Win or lose, there’s something deeply addictive about the Cheltenham Festival. It may already be over for another year, but I can’t help but find myself drawn to the ante-post markets for the 2019 Cheltenham Festival where we’re looking to find some seriously early value in this week’s column. However, this week is mainly about the Lincoln Handicap and we’ll also be looking at the first big turf handicap of the 2018 flat season, as well as some of the other big races that catch the eye during the week.
2019 Cheltenham Festival
The bookies have been quick to price-up lots of races for the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, and it’s no surprise to see that Presenting Percy has been backed into favouritism for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He obviously likes Cheltenham and, though this season’s RSA may not have been the strongest renewal, he won it in some style from the highly-regarded Monalee.
It’s then 7/1 Might Bite and 8/1 for Native River to go back-to-back, whilst you can have 16/1 for Sizing John to emulate Kauto Star and regain his crown. There’s also 12/1 about Footpad and, with Willie Mullins having already suggested he could be a future Gold Cup winner, it could be decent value considering he’s rated higher than most of the current 3-milers.
Meanwhile, you can have 25/1 about Waiting Patiently if you think he might be the star of next year’s show, and he’s currently only 7/1 for the King George.
Altior is no bigger than 7/4 to win a second Champion Chase and make it four winning Cheltenham Festivals in a row, and it’s hard to envisage him not going close the way he stormed up the Cheltenham Hill. He didn’t like the ground this year, so just imagine how good he could look on better ground.
Footpad is second-favourite at 6/1, however it’s the 12/1 about Douvan that sets the pulse racing as he could have easily won this year’s race if he hadn’t of fallen. The 20/1 about Petit Mouchoir also looks decent each-way value as he’d appreciate the better ground that the festival is often associated with.
Penhill is already shorter in the betting for next year’s Stayers’ Hurdle than he was to win this year’s, but it’s easy to see this former classy flat-racer becoming the next in a long line of back-to-back stayers’ hurdles winners. However, if you think this year’s favourite Sam Spinner didn’t run his race, you can have 20/1 for next year. A price that may disappear rapidly if he were to head to Aintree and win there.
Only three horses have won three Champion Hurdles though, so you may want to take on Buveur D’Air in his quest to join them. Melon could make further improvement to challenge next year, but it could be that one of the stars of this year’s novice races steps forward. Samcro is only 8/1 if he bids to follow in some big footsteps by winning the Ballymore and the Champion Hurdle in consecutive years. However, he’s quoted in everything from the Novice Chases to the Gold Cup, and owner Michael O’Leary has stated he’d prefer it if Samcro went chasing. Laurina could also be interesting after her mares’ novices’ hurdle annihilation and, whilst Willie Mullins has often kept his mares to mares-only races, she could emulate her trainer’s Annie Power and become a Champion Hurdler.
Thursday 22 March
Ludlow stages the class 2 Bromfeld Sand & Gravel Handicap Chase on Thursday and, with a £13,000+ prize to the winner, hopefully the likes of Overton Express, Just Cameron, Max Ward, Bun Doran, and Cepage will all turn up. The race was won last year by the progressive Speredek.
Friday 23 March
There’s class 2 action at a trio of courses on Friday, starting with the Betfred Series Final Handicap Hurdle (3.25) at Sedgefield. Dieg Man, Blottos, and Quick Pick all have decent course records and will be looking to extend them by taking the first prize of over £18,000.
It’s then quickly over to Lingfield for the Betway Live Casino Handicap (3.50) which could feature the familiar trio of Calling Out, Noble Gift, and Fire Fighting. Don’t miss the Be Wiser Insurance Handicap Hurdle (4.10) at Newbury either though as this race could pitch the improving Unison against the likes of Theclockisticking, Jaisalmer, Sizing Granite, and Moabit.
Saturday 24 March
The Lincoln Handicap, in its usual spot between the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National, provides a taster of what lies ahead for flat racing fans over the spring and summer months. The traditional curtain-raiser to the flat season was first run in 1841 and provides punters with a chance to land the Spring Double by combining the winner of the Lincoln and the winner of the Grand National in a double. (See our ante-post Grand National picks if you haven’t picked your Grand National winner yet.)
Lincoln Handicap 10-Year-Trends
Winners have been aged 4, 5 or 6
Winners have carried between 8-9 and 9-4
Winners have been rated between 90 and 102
Richard Fahey has trained 2 of the last 7 winners
Two favourites have won in the last 10 years
The other 8 winners were all returned at double-figure prices
Lincoln Handicap 2018 Major Contenders
If the stats don’t lie, then the top-7 in the field can be left out of calculations on account of having marks in excess of 102, and this includes the well-fancied Lord Glitters. Meanwhile, the next three also have more weight than ideal, be it only by 1lb. Addeybb and Fire Brigade fit the stats nicely though and it’s no surprise they top the betting. Addeybb hails from the Haggas stable that have won the race three-times in the past, whilst Ryan Moore has been booked for Fire Brigade and he’ll be hoping to go one better than last year when he finished a neck second behind Bravery on Oh This Is Us.
More Races At Doncaster
There’s also a strong supporting card for the Lincoln too, starting with the Unibet Cammidge Trophy (1.50) and the three that standout on the ratings are Lancelot Du Lac, Magical Memory and Danzeno.
There’s also the Unibet Spring Mile Handicap (2.25) for horses that get balloted out of the Lincoln, and these may well include last year’s Lincoln winner Bravery who is now rated a few pounds lower than last year’s winning mark.
It’s then the turn of the Listed-class milers in the Unibet Mile Stakes (3.00) and Tabarrak heads the market from Robin Of Navan. Don’t miss the chance to see some potential future stars after the Lincoln either as the 2-year-olds take in the Brocklesby (4.10).
The National Hunt action may seem a little flat this weekend, but the Doom Bar Handicap Chase (3.50) may be being used as a warm-up for a couple of fancied Grand National runners in Seeyouatmidnight and Virgilio. However, with both expected to be suited by further, they may have to give second-best to course and distance winner Samtegal.
Sunday 25 March
Seeyouatmidnight also has an alternative entry in the Grandnational.fans Veterans’ Handicap Chase on Sunday (4.20) at Ascot, where he could be joined by other Grand National possibles Buywise and Houblon Des Obeaux. The early entries for some of the other races also suggests that Paul Nicholls may be targeting this meeting with some of his better horses that missed Cheltenham, including Adrien Du Pont, Diego Du Charmil, and the right-handed loving Cyraname.