The fabulous three-day 2019 Aintree Grand National Festival produced some top class performances, none more so than Tiger Roll winning the big one itself to become the first horse since Red Rum in 1973/74 to land back-to-back runnings of the world’s greatest steeplechase. Here I look at his and the chances of three others who scored on Merseyside as regards the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. So read on to find out more as to why they appeal as long range ante post punts.
Tiger Roll – Cross Country Chase – 2/1 Betfair
Leading Irish owner Michael O’Leary has stated that Tiger Roll is “very unlikely” to bid for a third Randox Health Grand National next April following his historic second triumph at Aintree. The diminutive Gordon Elliott trained nine-year-old would have to carry top weight of 12 stone and Ryanair owner and and Gigginstown House boss O’Leary is not keen on the idea.
Speaking on Racing TV’s Luck on Sunday programme, O’Leary said: “It’s very unlikely that he’ll come back and run in it again next year. He will be carrying top-weight, he is a small horse and every time he runs now I get nervous – I’d hate for anything unfortunate to happen to him while he’s racing.There’s huge public affection for him and I think we’re duty-bound to mind him now.”
Instead he has earmarked the Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival next March as his ultimate target in 2020 – and possibly his last race. If victorious in the race for a third time it would be his fifth overall success as the four-day spectacular having also won the Triumph Hurdle and the National Hunt Chase.
O’Leary said: “His main target this year was the cross-country in Cheltenham and I think that will probably be his main target again next year,” he said. “I would be strongly of the view that if he was to win the cross-country in Cheltenham next year for a third time – which would be his fifth win in Cheltenham – I would see no reason not to retire him at that point in time and let him go out on a high.”
Tiger Roll is currently 2/1 favourite with Betfair for the Cross Country Chase. Given the way in which he romped to success this year in that event, and his huge public following, he is likely to go off odds-on if making the starting line-up. His ante post odds therefore look extremely tempting.
Champ – RSA Novices’ Chase – 10/1 William Hill
Champ, who is named after 20-times champion jockey Tony McCoy, ran out the impressive winner of the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle over 3m when easily beating Emitom by three lengths. It was a performance which had McCoy dreaming of future Cheltenham Gold Cup glory for the J P McManus owned gelding and he is set to go over fences next season. His likely long term target is the 3m RSA Novices’ Chase for which he has been installed as the 10/1 favourite with William Hill.
Those odds look more than fair given that the Nicky Henderson trained seven-year-old, who has now won five of his seven starts over hurdles, is a strapping sort who is bred to come into his own when being sent over the larger obstacles.
The big question heading into the Sefton was whether he would stay the 3m trip, which he was tackling for the first time, but Champ looked to be suited by it as he travelled well throughout before quickening smartly on the run-in to quickly put the race to bed.
Speaking after the race, Henderson said: “They didn’t go a great gallop, but I thought it would tell us more for next season, when he’ll have to go chasing. He’s starting to live up to his name. He is good, and he just has the most lovely nature and temperament. I’m, not talking about McCoy, by the way. I’m talking about the horse. He’s a lovely horse.”
To my eyes, Champ really does look the real deal and has the potential to go right to the very top over fences. If that does prove to be the case then the 10/1 currently available with Hills for the RSA could look huge come next March.
If The Cap Fits – Stayers’ Hurdle – 14/1 Paddy Power
The most thrilling finish of the three-day meeting saw If The Cap Fits survive a horrendous last flight blunder before powering home on the run-in to prevail in a three-way photo and land the spoils the Grade 1 Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle over 3m by just a head and a neck from Roksana and odds-on favourite Apple’s Jade.
In doing so he provided trainer Harry Fry’s first victory at the Randox Health Grand National Festival and jockey Sean Bowen with his inaugural success at the highest level. It was a performance which also marked the Paul and Clare Rooney owned If The Cap Fits out as a leading contender for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival for which he is currently a top proceed 14/1 with Paddy Power.
Fry said: “I thought the mistake at the last that was us cooked and he had every excuse after to give up – he didn’t have much room, the gap was closing, but he wanted it and he toughed it out. The step up in trip to three miles has worked and I am delighted – Paul and Clare are here today, it is a fantastic occasion.
There was simply nothing not to like about the way in which the seven=-year-old got the job done in such gutsy fashion. The step up to three miles for the first time clearly suited and If The Cap Fits has bags of untapped potential over it.
His campaign next season will surely be geared around the Stayers’ Hurdle and it’s hard to see him not going close in that contest should all go to plan. This year’s impressive winner Paisley Park currently heads the getting to retain his crown and looks a worthy favourite at 7/2. However, If The Cap Fits looks well worth considering backing each-way ante post at 14/1 with Paddy Power given that he is as short as 10/1 elsewhere and the staying division lacks any real strength in-depth.
Pentland Hills – Champion Hurdle – 16/1 BetVictor
Pentland Hills backed up his win in the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival with a game neck success success in the Grade 1 Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle. The Nicky Henderson trained four-year-old travelled strongly throughout the two-mile contest and responded willing to jockey Nico de Boinville’s urgings in the closing stages to collar long-time leader Fakir D’oudairies.
The son of Motivator is now unbeaten over hurdles and has achieved a huge amount in such a short time having only made his debut over the obstacle in February when landing a maiden hurdle at Plumpton. Those thought were echo post race by Henderson who could not hide his enthusiasm for the gelding.
The winning handler said: “Pentland Hills has had has three races in not much more than five weeks but he was tough there – he travelled well through the race and had a battle on, but he toughed it out. I am thrilled with him and he has been an absolute star all the way through.” He added: I can’t say that Pentland Hills is not a Champion Hurdle horse – I would love to think he is.
Pentland Hills will be a five-year-old come next March, and it’s fair to say that age group does not have a good record in the Champion Hurdle. Only Night Nurse (1976), See You Then (1985) and Katchit (2008) have triumphed in the last four decades. However, Pentland Hills looks far from the finished article but clearly has a huge engine and is open to any amount of progression.
He is also in the right hands as Seven Barrows handler Henderson has a superb record in the 2m showpiece on the opening day as he has won it a record eight times courtesy of See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987), Punjabi (2009), Binocular (2010), Buveur D’Air (2017, 2018). So at the current 16/1 on offer with BetVictor for the 2020 Champion Hurdle, Pentland Hills makes plenty of each-way ante post appeal.