Five horses to lay at Cheltenham Racing Festival

Colm Greaves presents five opportunities where laying a horse may be less risky than backing them.
Five horses to lay at Cheltenham Racing Festival

Laying a horse is not necessarily a judgment on a particular animal anymore. It is a commercial decision based on a subjective opinion of value in a price. A judgment on horses trading at a shorter price than their actual chance of winning or placing in a given race. This can be a lucrative source of profit.

TODAY: Melon: Supreme Novice Hurdle, around 3/1

Melon is opposed purely on an absence of solid racecourse experience in the first race at the meeting that tends to be frantic, incident packed and keenly run.

Melon was an average flat performer in France before joining Willie Mullins and has appeared only once on a racecourse since the switch when winning a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown in January.

While he was visually impressive, the horses he beat were moderate looking before the race and have done nothing since to advertise the form.

Although Mullins is bullish on Melon’s chances, his last three winners of the race, Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan had run nine times over hurdles between them by this stage.

To find the last winner of the Supreme who had only run once you need to go all the way back to Flown in 1992.

Last year’s winner Altior was rated a stone and a half higher than Melon is now going into the race and although he might well be a champion in waiting he is no value on what he has achieved to date.

TODAY: Yanworth, Champion Hurdle, 5/2

Seven-year old Yanworth has always enjoyed a lofty reputation and on balance he deserves it.

He is nine from 12 on the racecourse including two festival placings when he was fourth in the Bumper to Moon Racer two years ago, and second to Yorkhill in the Neptune last year, easily held when 11/10 favourite.

The concerns about Yanworth and his position at the head of the Champion Hurdle market is one of tactical speed in a fast run race as his racing style indicates that he may be suited by longer distances.

On his seasonal reappearance at Ascot he needed all of the two and half miles to assert over the stayer Lil Rockerfeller and last time out at Wincanton he had to be stirred up to beat one of his Champion rivals, Ch’Tibello who is over 10 times his price by only a length.

Yanworth goes on any ground, but has looked much better on heavy, another negative against a speedy field.

TOMORROW: Neon Wolf: Neptune Novice Hurdle, 7/4

Trained by Harry Fry, Neon Wolf has been highly regarded all through the winter and appears on many banker lists in the lead up to the festival.

It’s easy enough to see why. He’s won his two starts over hurdles by a combined twelve lengths, including the Grade Two Supreme Trial Hurdle at Haydock in January in a manner that was visually impressive and in a decent time.

On foot of this win he has been prominent the betting for the Neptune and hardened again over the weekend on the defection of the well fancied Finian’s Oscar.

He also has an entry for the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but the main doubts about his chances in the Neptune come from two sources.

Firstly, he has only ever won on soft and with temperatures predicted to be up to 15 degrees early in the week, with little rain forecast, the ground could be quite dry by Wednesday which could be problematic for Neon Wolf.

Secondly, his opposition is likely to include Barcadys whose form in winning the Deloitte at Leopardstown last time out looks much stronger and whose two length third on equivalent ground in the Bumper last year indicates his liking both for the track and the time of year and he could easily turn Neon Wolf over.

THURSDAY: Yorkhill: JLT Novices Chase, 6/4

There is little question that Yorkhill is a machine of a racehorse and all being well has a career path ahead of him that could easily reach to Gold Cup winning standard.

Successful in eight of nine starts under rules and despite some sloppy jumping early on he turned powerful display to turn over the hotpot Yanworth over the JLT distance at last years’ festival.

This is the only basis for opposing him this week – the possibility that clumsy jumping early will interrupt his rhythm and flow badly enough to negate the ability advantage he carries over his rivals.

In his two wins over fences this season he has tended to jump left and in a recent public schooling session at Leopardstown he was again less than smooth at the early fences.

FRIDAY: Defi Du Seuil, Triumph Hurdle, 6/4

There was a time when the Triumph Hurdle was a pure graveyard for favourites but in recent years the fields have tended to be smaller and races more compact and sensibly run which has favoured fancied horses.

Despite this the race has only thrown up one Champion Hurdle winner since the great Persian War won it 50 years ago.

This was Katchit, also handled by Alan King who trains this week’s favourite Defi Du Seuil for JP McManus.

There is no question that he deserves to be the head of the market, the issue is - should he be as short as 6/4?

Unbeaten in five starts over hurdles including an easy win in the Grade One Finale Hurdle at Chepstow he has earned a handicap rating nine pound higher than any of his level weight rivals.

The doubt arises over his ability to handle ground that is normally at its fastest by Friday when his best performances have clearly been on soft.

He could be outpaced early on and additionally no horse has won both the Finale and Triumph since Mysliv in 1993.

There is no question that Defi Du Seuil is the standout pick on all known form, but at the price he looks like a logical lay.

He has only ever won on soft and with temperatures predicted to be up to 15 degrees early in the week, with little rain forecast, the ground could be quite dry by Wednesday


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