by Dave Metcalf
Dave has over 30 years’ experience in the media industry having worked for regional and national newspapers. He is a huge horse racing and football fan and has done interviews on various radio and TV stations, including talkSPORT and Sky Sports, whilst working as a PR front man for a betting firm. David has also written for At The Races, Coral News, the Daily Mirror and Racing Plus newspaper. He produced a Cheltenham Festival guide with former eight-times champion national hunt jockey Peter Scudamore, MBE, after helping him to set up a syndicate for his trainer son Michael.
With with 2019 Cheltenham Festival fast approaching, leading bookmakers have been chalking up special bets for the four-day spectacular at Prestbury Park which gets underway on Tuesday, 12th March.
Leading Irish owner J P McManus looks have have one of his very strongest teams assembled and William Hill are offering a tempting 150/1 about his famous green and gold hooped colours being carried to victory in four Grade 1 Hurdle contests – the Supreme, Ballymore, Albert Bartlett and Triumph.
So let’s take a closer look at his potential runners in those races and see why at the odds on offer it looks a tempting three figure punt which could come off and reap a huge reward for a small outlay.
Supreme Novices Hurdle (Tuesday, 12th March)
Fakir D’oudairies is the main hope for McManus in the traditional Festival curtain raiser run over 2m. This four-year-old had some fair form to his name when trained in France and is unbeaten in two starts since joining the powerful yard of Irish handler Joseph O’Brien.
After landing a 23-runner maiden hurdle in good style by 3 1/2 lengths he took the step up into Grade 2 company in his stride when romping to a 13 length success over Fine Brunello over 2m 1f at this venue. Fakir D’oudairies travelled strongly throughout and was ultra-slick at the obstacles. It was a stunning performance and one which marked him out as a very exciting prospect.
Although he is also entered in the Triumph Hurdle, his stable companion Sir Erec looks a worthy red-hot favourite for that juvenile contest so McManus is likely to target him at this. Fakir D’oudairies receives a handy 8lb weight-for-age allowance and that makes him a major contender. His form course is another plus and he deserves to be challenging Al Dancer for favouritism in the ante post betting.
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Wednesday, 13th March)
Champ, who is named after 20-time champion jump jockey Sir Anthony McCoy heads the betting for this 2m 5f contest following a very taking success in the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury in December. After travelling and jumping supremely well throughout the Nicky Henderson trained seven-year-old quickened up smartly after the last to easily beat Getaway Trump by 2 1/2 lengths.
The form looks strong as the runner-up has since run a blinder to finish fourth in the valuable Betfair Hurdle at Newbury whilst the fourth home Brewin’upastorm was travelling strongly and in the lead next time out in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham when coming to grief in the last. Champ is now unbeaten in his last four starts over the obstacles and he is undoubtedly the one they all have to beat in this. he could also be joined unbeaten stable companion Champagne Platinum who is also held in very high regard and looks a powerful second string for McManus.
Triumph Hurdle (Friday, 15th March)
Sir Erec is all the rage for this 2m juvenile contest and it’s easy to see why.This Joseph O’Brien trained four-year-old was a high class performer on the level, winning twice and running a cracker to finish third to staying star Stradivarius in the Group 2 Long Distance Cup at Ascot.
He has taken to hurdling like a duck to water and is unbeaten in two starts. In the last of those at Leopardstown, Sir Erec made all and stayed on strongly to readily beat Gardens Of Babylon by six lengths in the Grade I Spring Juvenile Hurdle. That race is a key trial for this and many consider Sir Erec to the the Irish banker of the meeting. He is currently a top priced 6/5 in the ante post betting those cramped odds look fully justified. McManus also has a good record in the race having won two of the last three renewals.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Friday, 13th March)
McManus has two very exciting prospects to go to war with in this 3m novices’ staying contest in the shape of Dickie Diver and Birchdale. Both hail from the all-conquering yard of champion jumps trainer Nicky Henderson and there is little to split them according to the Cheltenham ante post betting market.
Dickie Diver (best price 9/1) is narrowly favoured. He looked an unlucky loser when runner-up at Chepstow, making a costly error at the last before going down by just a head to a subsequent Grade 2 winner. He then showed the benefit of that experience when cruising home by 2 1/4 lengths at the same venue when last seen in action. He clearly has a big engine and looks a leading contender.
Birchdale (best price 10/1) won his sole start in an Irish point and is unbeaten in two starts under rules. The last of those came in a Grade 2 over 2m 4f at this venue and the step up in trip promises to suit. He has been described by his handler as a big baby, but one with bags of talent, and has the potential to be anything.