PAT KEANE: Beware the short priced favourite at Cheltenham

Cheltenham is a little over two weeks away now and one of the things that strikes you, when looking at the markets for all of the 28 races, is just how many short priced favourites are likely to go to post.

Backing horses at tight odds at this meeting is rarely a good policy, but plenty of punters are going to be left with no alternative.

Right now there are seven horses guaranteed to go off as warm orders, led by Min in the first contest of the Tuesday, the Supreme Novices Hurdle.

He will then be followed by Douvan, Vroum Vroum Mag, Yanworth, Un De Sceaux, Limini and Thistlecrack.

Cheltenham is always different to any other meeting through a season and this time it promises to be even more so.

They have been racing on mud in Britain and Ireland though the winter and chances are it will meet an entirely different surface next month.

Add in how fast the races will be run and how competitive it will be and the simple fact is that every horse will be just one mistake away from potential disaster.

Douvan is currently a best priced 2-5 for the Arkle Chase and we all know that it will take a fall to prevent this brilliant six-year-old from winning. But who wants to play at 2-5?

Likewise, superb front running Un De Sceaux looks sure to be odds-on, he varied between 4-5 and 4-7 this week, for the Champion Chase and is far and away the most likely winner.

But I would not dream of backing either Un De Sceaux or Douvan and can happily sit back and enjoy, hopefully, superb displays from both, without having to worry whether they might get one obstacle wrong.

Then there’s Alan King’s Yanworth, who is around even-money for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.

Fourth behind Moon Racer in the Cheltenham bumper last year, he is four from four over flights this season and has been very impressive.

But there is likely to be lots of opposition to him from Ireland and he just seems bad value to my way of thinking.

Willie Mullins’ Limini is only evens for the newly inaugurated Mares’ Novice Hurdle, but if she is that price on the day then I will certainly want to be with her.

And if you are a big fan of Thistlecrack, in the Ryanair World Hurdle, and haven’t backed him yet, then now is the time to strike.

He is a top priced 11-10 and I cannot see those odds being available for much longer. Thistlecrack has been terrific in his three wins, in three outings, this season, at Cheltenham, Ascot and Newbury.

Glance at the betting for the race and you will quickly conclude that a number of his main rivals will be heading in a different direction to the World Hurdle.

There will be a fair bit of ducking and diving for punters with all of these market leaders and it will be vital to get much of it right, because the other 21 races at the meeting shape as a veritable nightmare.

Take the Champion Hurdle, for instance, following the defection of Faugheen and then Arctic Fire. I mean no matter what way you look at the race, you can find fault with all of those that are left.

I was mildly amused when Annie Power was immediately promoted to clear favouritism, after winning an egg and spoon race on her comeback at Punchestown ten days ago.

We are now supposed to believe that she is suddenly a high class two-miler, after being campaigned as a stayer for the last two seasons.

In 2014, Annie Power was beaten into second by More Of That at Cheltenham in the three mile World Hurdle and last year had the two and a half mile OLGB Mares’ Hurdle at the festival at her mercy when falling at the last.

Mind you she has won four times at around two miles, her best effort coming in a Grade 2 at Naas when slamming Defy Logic and Don Cossack. But that was three years ago, in February, 2013.

Chances are Ruby Walsh is going to have to choose between Annie Power, assuming she is supplemented, and Nichols Canyon. But the way he nods is only going to be of limited help to us, because it shapes as a difficult enough decision.

If the Champion Hurdle has become a problem to solve, then the Gold Cup is an even bigger puzzle.

Again, Walsh faces a choice between Vautour and Djakadam.

I have no doubt but that Vautour, stamina worries or not, will travel the Gold Cup route, at least on this occasion.

The fact that last year’s winner, the powerful front running Coneygree, misses the race means this year’s renewal will possibly be much less a test of stamina test than it might have been.

In any case, I have a feeling Walsh thinks about Vautour in the same way that he did Kauto Star and will be amazed if he doesn’t ride him.

That being the scenario, Paul Townend would surely slot in for Djakadam and, you’d imagine, would be more than happy to be aboard the “second string.’’

Yesterday week I had my first glimpse of former top cyclist, Victoria Pendleton, tuning in to watch her in action at Fakenham, as she continued her preparation for a possible tilt at the Foxhunters at Cheltenham.

I didn’t like what I saw, but much more importantly neither did Steve Smith Eccles or John Francome.

Smith Eccles said she was “too loose’’ and Francome described her as “a disaster waiting to happen.’’

I will be most surprised if common sense doesn’t prevail and expect her to abandon the Foxhunters dream until next year.

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