PAT KEANE: Watch Selected carefully but Smart cracking Cheltenham value

Carefully Selected is running at an attractive 16-1 in the Cheltenham betting stakes. Picture: Inpho

He may not win at Cheltenham, but certainly shapes as a horse for the future.

The Willie Mullins-trained Carefully Selected is going places and, if he was in any other yard, would not have been trading as high as 16-1 this week for the Weatherbys’ Champion Bumper at the festival.

If that sounds like being in the care of Mullins is a negative, well it does –– but is far removed from the actual truth.

The problem, of course, is the fact he is just one of a number of possibilities Mullins has for that particular contest and both of the market leaders, Blackbow and Hollowgraphic, are also housed at Closutton.

Blackbow is unbeaten in two races at Leopardstown, while Hollowgraphic, beaten into second at the Punchestown festival in April, made a stunning return, scoring by 13 lengths when returning to that track in December.

But, on what we have seen of Carefully Selected so far, he is at least entitled to be spoken about in the same breath as the other pair.

Second in a point-to point at Oldtown over a year ago, Carefully Selected made no mistake at Monksgrange in late March, winning by a distance.

That bare result flatters him, however, as his closest pursuer, a horse called Over Stated, was reportedly about a length down, and held, when falling at the final fence.

Over Stated is now trained in England by Richard Phillips and hasn’t exactly boosted the form, even if he did win his point next time at Bartlemy.

He’s had two outings over hurdles for Phillips and didn’t show much on either occasion, at Lingfield and then Southwell.

During his time between the flags, Carefully Selected was trained by Ted Walsh, before being bought and put into training with Mullins, after being recommended to the trainer by Walsh’s daughter, Katie.

Prior to him appearing for Mullins, Walsh senior kindly told me about the horse, indicating it might be in my best interests to have him on my side.

So, when Carefully Selected made his racecourse debut at Leopardstown at Christmas, he was the medium of closer than normal inspection from this quarter.

Starting off over two and a half miles, he bolted in by eight lengths, in a contest that has worked out really well.

The Big Dog (4th) and Master of Tara (6th) won next time and when the former went in at Naas, he beat Mount Pelier, who was runner-up in that Leopardstown race.

The third, Captain Cj, hasn’t run since, but the fifth, Lone Wolf, has. Lone Wolf was subsequently launched over flights in a Listed event at Punchestown last month and could hardly have performed any better in taking third behind Hardline, successful again in the meantime, and Riders Onthe Storm.

Carefully Selected returned to action at Naas last Sunday, dropping down to two miles. There was a chance he was going to prove vulnerable at that trip and evens was available.

Those who wanted to lay him, though, were soon back-pedalling and Carefully Selected hardened to 8-13. He was seriously impressive in making all the running. Whether the form amounts to something concrete we won’t know for a while, but when you have big gaps between the runners through the field then that is always a source of encouragement.

For instance, Carefully Selected won by four and three parts of a length, with the third a further nine and a half lengths away.

Is he going to be up to the task at Cheltenham, on a surface likely to be on the good side? Probably not.

It is generally accepted that Patrick Mullins, rightly so, gets first choice of his father’s horses in the Bumper and is he likely to nod in Carefully Selected’s direction? Probably not.

That being the case we might have to put up with Ruby Walsh or Paul Townend! Anyway, there are worse, far worse, 16-1 wagers than this lad.

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Looking through the prices for Cheltenham this week, it struck me that there are only four odds-on shots for the entire meeting. I had a feeling it would be more, so an obvious offer from some firm will surely be a bet on all of them winning.

The four are Buveur D’Air (Champion Hurdle), Apple’s Jade (Mares’ Hurdle), Samcro (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle) and Altior (Champion Chase).

In theory, all should score, but I’ll bet my bottom dollar at least one of them will bite the dust. I can’t see Samcro getting beaten and there will be no juicy steaks for the rest of the year should he go west!

And you can easily argue that the other three haven’t much to beat in their respective tests. But this is Cheltenham, a law unto itself, and it is never that simple.

It was still 4-1 the field for the Gold Cup this week and it would be no surprise if the contest shaped up as even more open on the day. Our Duke (14-1) remains an each-way poke!

My value wager of the meeting stays the same, Cracking Smart, 6-1 this week, in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle. We’ve written about him here before, expressing the hope he would swerve the Dublin Racing Festival and head straight to Cheltenham.

Well, that’s precisely what happened and Cracking Smart hasn’t been seen since going down by a length to Next Destination at Naas on January 7.

The form has been working out quite nicely and the fact there is every chance of him improving significantly for a decent surface is a big bonus.

******

Acouple of punting pals fancied the Joseph O’Brien-trained Speak Easy, I was much less enthusiastic, for a Grade 2 Hurdle at Naas last Sunday.

They swung into action on Saturday evening and managed to get on at 7-1. The boys were laid a decent few quid as well, so there was the possibility of a more than tasty return.

Speak Easy, partnered by Barry Geraghty, went off at 5-2 and eventually finished third behind Hardline and Impact Factor.

He lost his place when squeezed for room three out and then had six horses in front of him approaching the second last, when it might have been wiser to challenge wide, rather than going in behind the opposition.

Anyway, Speak Easy came home rather well to claim third spot near the line and has to be regarded as a horse of interest.


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