It is hard enough to find winners at the Cheltenham Festival on the day, let alone with ante-post picks. With that being said, some value can always be found 12 months out, as evidenced by plenty of tickets doing the rounds with Constitution Hill at prices as big as 3/1 and Galopin Des Champs at 5/1. We have set Billy Grimshaw the unenviable task of finding some value a year out from the 2024 Festival, and he thinks he’s found three that even with the perils of ante-post punting are worth a second look…
I’ll begin this piece by making it clear how aware I am that pickng three horses who will make it to the start line of any race at the Festival, never mind picking their correct target, is odds-against at this point. Another further spanner in the works when attempting to pick out some value in these markets is the looming presence of the superstar that is Constitution Hill atop many odds grids. His target is still unknown at this stage but he could end up in any of the Arkle, Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Turners, or even (and this one is rather fanciful given his handler) the Gold Cup. Wherever he lines up I’d be loathe to oppose him, so with my trio of tips here I have gone in races he either cannot or will not turn up in…
Lossiemouth is favourite for this race after her impressive Triumph Hurdle victory in 2023, and she will undoubtedly be a better horse next year once stepping into open company. I got the 2023 race very wrong and thought Honeysuckle was gone at the game before she produced that phenomenal swansong performance. After a few slices of humble pie after re-watching the race, I have concluded she was back to something like her best for her final race and as such, for LOVE ENVOI to run her so close was no mean feat.
Harry Fry’s Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle winner of 2022 clearly loves it at Cheltenham and although You Wear It Well and Magical Zoe could be worthy foes stepping up from novice races to go along with Lossiemouth, the race shouldn’t be as deep in 2024 with Honeysuckle retired, Epatante’s future unclear and Marie’s Rock surely heading for the Stayers’. At 10/1 with bet365, I think the Stoke based Betting Site are underestimating her chance of making her form figures 1-2-1 come 2024. She will undoubtedly be aimed at this race once more and with other firms pricing her at 7/1 to go one better, that looks correct to my eye so the double digits is worth taking at this stage despite the obvious dangers. She could very easily go off a short priced favourite if the Mares stepping up to open company all disappoint next season.
Connections of MARIE’S ROCK waited until the last moment to decide her Cheltenham 2023 target, in the end opting to defend their Mares’ crown in the Tuesday race. In the end she ran no sort of race and whichever day she took part, running like that she’d have stood no chance. Nicky Henderson had a week to forget, barring the freak Constitution Hill of course, and I am willing to forgive his mare that below par run on account of yard form.
She will be nine by the time the race rolls around next season, and with mares they can go off the boil quickly once aging. However, this is a division with no standout contender and with the protagonists in the Albert Bartlett all confirmed to be heading novice chasing next season it would be a surprise if any new kid on the block took over and grabbed the Staying Hurdling division by the scruff of the neck. With Marie’s Rock, she will almost certainly be aimed at this race and if back on-song, she beat Dashel Drasher further than he was beaten in this year’s Stayer’s Hurdle in the Relkeel on seasonal reappearance so has the form in the book to be competitive.
This is a price worth taking now in my opinion as she looks all set to head to Aintree for their Stayers’ Hurdle. If she is back to her best and wins that race well, 16/1 will be a distant memory. I would still respect Home By The Lee at 20/1 as he was running a big race until a clattering mistake, and indeed he could come out and win at Aintree, but Marie’s Rock catches the eye more so is the second 2024 tip.
In the build up to Cheltenham, many were predicting another miserable Festival for Paul Nicholls. Britain’s champion trainer didn’t get to the position he was in by sitting on his laurels when things weren’t going right, however, and the DItcheat master well and truly shut the doubters up with a brilliant week. The highlights of course were his two winners in Stage Star (Turners) and Stay Away Fay (Albert Bartlett). The latter named should be an outstanding staying chaser in time and will be in the mix for the Brown Advisory one would imagine, but arguably the horse to be most excited about for Nicholls was placed rather than winning. And no, I don’t mean Bravemansgame!
CAPTAIN TEAGUE ran a superb race to finish third in the Champion Bumper, beating a host of Irish runners and all of the British runners were double figure lengths behind. Nicholls had said in the lead up to the race that he would be thrilled with fifth or sixth for this potential star, so to come third exceeded expectations. He is a shorter price for the Ballymore in 2024, but to my eye this one is another in the Stay Away Fay mould who will relish three miles and just won’t stop galloping. I’d expect Nicholls to learn his lesson from Hermes Allen in that the Irish (particularly Willie Mullins) will just always have one too speedy in the Ballymore, so he will in my opinion aim the best British novice hurdling prospect of next year at the Albert Bartlett. Hopefully he does anyway, for this column’s sake!