Millar's Method: Eight Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post Selections
By Ross MillarLatest Horse Racing Odds
30 January 2024
As I mentioned in the last Millar’s Method ante-post betting (and tipping) for the Cheltenham Festival has become a far more difficult exercise in the last five years.
The extra day gives horses more options, which of course makes finding the race they’re aiming at harder and then of course you have to factor in the fact that Willie Mullins will often move his invariably strong team around to cover as many options as possible, again making it harder to find an angle.
I have though found eight horses that I think offer, for varying reasons, some value in the current ante-post market.
JPR One – I have really liked how he’s gone about his races since he switched to chasing this season. He’s not keen and has a high cruising speed. He was impressive on his debut at Newton-Abbot before he was then in the process of producing a bold front-running performance when knuckling on landing after the last at Cheltenham in November, with the race in the bag.
He was beaten six-lengths into third in the Henry VIII chase at Sandown but again a peck on landing two out stripped him of a winning chance, to my mind he still emerged with real credit. He finally grabbed his graded win in the Lightning Novices’ at Lingfield last Sunday, again travelling strongly and jumping with great accuracy.
Marine Nationale does look exceptional but away from him I can’t see many that are better than the Tizzard’s gelding. At 16/1 an each-way play looks sensible in a race that might only pay two-places on the day; given the likelihood that Marine Nationale will scare many away.
Blood Destiny – I perhaps wasn’t as disappointed as many were by the performance of Blood Destiny at Punchestown, I think Spillane’s Tower simply outstayed him on the testing ground, I also think he’s a smart staying chaser of the future.
It might mean that after much searching Willie Mullins has found his Arkle horse (I’m praying that he will conclude like I did that the Old Course won’t suit Gaelic Warrior even though the trip would) as I’m sure he is going to want to take Facile Vega up in trip after his own defeat at Leopardstown.
This drop back in trip would allow Paul Townend to utilise Blood Destiny’s fast and accurate jumping, something that he wasn’t able to do when attempting to conserve energy at Punchestown.
He did bomb out badly at the festival last year but that came in the hurly-burly of a messy Triumph hurdle and he’ll return a year older and (hopefully) wiser.
He’s a horse with plenty of class and another I’m keen to have onside each way at 16/1.
This does very much look like a shootout between Jonbon and El Fabiolo at the prices it could be argued that Jonbon is marginally the more attractive bet but I don’t expect the prices to change much between now and the day so that’s a question that can be answered nearer the time.
Away from those two the rest of the potential runners aren’t top-class (with the potential exception of Ferny Hollow – but he’s simply too fragile to be ever holding an ante-post slip about) and I do think it’s another race that will have a small runner field, potentially even less than eight, as a result it’s a race I’m keen to find an angle in.
Amarillo Sky had put together a good sequence of wins in the early part of the 22/23 season. He gave 9lb to the high-class Fugitif when beating him at Cheltenham and then destroyed a handicap field by 14L when winning at Newbury. The fact he finished lame when beaten just 9L in the Clarence House chase (run at Cheltenham) suggested he certainly wasn’t out of depth in that grade.
He’s been on the sidelines since and of course it is one of my more speculative selections but I’d expect to see him re-appear in something like the Game Spirit at Newbury, where I’d be hoping for a positive display.
At 50/1 I’m happy to make a small investment each-way.
Fugitif – It’s no secret that I have a huge amount of affection for this huge horse; he has after all served us well on the SBK Podcast. He finished third in last weekend’s Clarence House. He also came very close to winning the Plate at last year's Festival and has looked better again this season, most recently when flying home over course and distance to land the December Gold Cup. In a year when the Ryanair looks wide open (even before the defection of Allaho) he has strong credentials.
Stage Star and Banbridge will ensure this is run at a strong pace, which will certainly provide Fugitif with the strong test of stamina that suits, as it was clearly evident from the December Gold Cup that he’s a horse that stays exceptionally well. In his five runs last year he had three different jockeys, this year connections have been able to secure Gavin Sheehan each time and looking at the entries in this it’s hard to think he won’t be available again, that can only be a positive. His run this weekend in the Clarence House will give him experience of jumping at two-mile pace and I’d expect him to utilise that well come March.
Soft ground on the day would suit him perfectly but he’s a smart horse regardless 33/1 is a big price about a horse who’s Cheltenham form read 2221 and all while climbing the handicap.
I think this year's Gold Cup will be run at a frenetic pace, Galopin Des Champs looked revitalised by positive tactics at Leopardstown in the Savills Chase and I don’t for a moment see the Mullins team resorting to the hold up tactics of last season. Then throw in L’Homme Presse, Fastorslow, Bravemansgame, Gerri Colombe, Gentlemansgame and Shishkin all who like to be ridden prominently and you’ve got all the ingredients of a pace collapse. The winner might well be the one from this group that can sustain the gallop, most likely Galopin Des Champs, but at a best price 6/5 I can happily watch that play out. I’d much rather find a classy horse that will steer clear of that strong pace. Hewick was certainly a candidate, having done that very thing when landing the King George at Kempton but at an even bigger price of 25/1 its Grand National hero Corach Rambler that I really want to be with. He’s unbeaten at this track and will be well suited by a strongly run race where he can weave between tiring rivals. Don’t be put off by either of his two starts this season Kelso and Haydock are both sharp tracks that wouldn’t be to his taste and furthermore I’m certain his season is geared solely around the spring.
He’s a strong stayer and as with all modern Grand National winners he possesses a touch of class he appeals as an each-way selection.
Favour And Fortune (Supreme Hurdle) The lack of a standout two-mile novice from Willie Mullins – and Ireland in general means this looks like one of the most open renewals for a decade. Alan Kings gelding has impressed me he has bags of pace, is professional through his races and jumps with speed and accuracy. The soft ground at Aintree for the Formby Hurdle wouldn’t have been to his liking at all so I was inclined to mark that performance up.
He’s 50/1 yet is rated 4lb higher than Jeriko Du Reponet who is currently the shortest priced British based entrant.
Ballyadam (Coral Cup) Déjà vu, I tipped him for the same race this time last year and was frustrated to see him run well in the County where for the second year in a row he was outpaced before making good late progress. Connections ran him in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown last time so must surely now be convinced by his stamina. He runs well at Cheltenham year in year out and would deserve to land a big one; at 25/1 he’s a great price.
Final Orders (Plate Handicap) Gavin Cromwell, Keith Donoghue and Cheltenham it’s been easy this season. In fact Final Orders has been the one raider from the Cromwell camp that hasn’t fired in the UK this season, I wonder if the early part of the season has been geared around getting him back to a more workable handicap mark. He encountered traffic trouble in last year’s Grand Annual before rallying to finish fifth off a mark of 150 and has since shown he has stamina for this trip. The Plate is a race I throw a few darts at but he’s the first at 25/1.