I am going to split the ante-post action up into two pieces again this week – I shouldn’t really, as I think I only get paid for one article…. – and take in Newbury’s Ladbrokes Trophy and Newcastle’s Betfair Fighting Fifth in the first of them here.
It makes it more manageable from a reader point of view, as being confronted by a massive weekend preview in one hit (and I will leave Friday’s ITV action alone, so I can come to that fresh on Thursday) is probably not ideal.
And it also gives me time to take in the adjusted marks that come out on Tuesday mornings when scanning the lesser Saturday handicaps and contests.
Epatante strong in the market
I better start with the Betfair Fighting Fifth or else I won’t even get weighed in for the one column, let alone two, but, being serious, it is a £115k Grade 1 race.
Epatante and Monmiral dominated the Betfair Sportsbook’s ante-post betting in the lead-up to Monday’s five-day entries – and exchange players should note there is a market up there, too – and punters of those market leaders will be hoping there isn’t any repeat of the fun and games, and literally high jinks, that happened at the first last year.
Actually, Epatante backers will, as she ended up winning the race by 4 lengths from Sceau Royal on good ground, but it could have been a very different story had she been near Not So Sleepy when he inexplicably swerved right at the opening flight and took out Silver Streak, who was the each-way steal of the race at 6/1 with the sponsors offering an enhanced three places on the six-runner contest.
Ouch, ouch, and triple ouch.
All four of the above are back again this year, alongside Monmiral, Belfast Banter and Voix Du Reve in a field of just seven as it stands. This unseasonably dry spell continues to wreak havoc on the jumps scene, and even a low sun was adding insult to injury to a beleaguered Kempton card on Monday.
Epatante, the early 4/5 favourite with the Betfair Sportsbook, is on a recovery path after failing to deliver on the immense promise of that impressive win here in three subsequent starts last season – she was actually as low as 5/4 to retain her Champion Hurdle crown after her Newcastle blitz – and Nicky Henderson seems to have been making bullish noises about her being right back on song.
And such talk is unlikely to be toned down after her work companion Buzz won well at Ascot on Saturday. Of course, it means little, as this isn’t a handicap, but the assessor now rates the mare at just 154, having been 162 at her peak, so he thinks she is vulnerable.
One thing I have to touch upon is that the current going at Newcastle is good but the weather site I primarily use has 15mm of rain coming on Saturday, so that muddies the waters somewhat. Others forecast far less, though they agree on about 3mm arriving on Friday, too.
So let’s split the difference and have a working assumption of good to soft, shall we? The course are saying “watering is an option if required”.
Whether it is deemed soft enough for the 3/1 second favourite Monmiral to take his chance is to be seen, but the unbeaten 4yo certainly looked potentially top drawer when beating recent Greatwood Hurdle runner-up Adagio on officially good to soft at Aintree, and Paul Nicholls actually namechecked this race immediately after that Grade 1 win.
But he is also entered at Newbury on Saturday, too. I think you have to wait if you fancy him.
Good ground will be no hardship – the opposite, in fact – for the fit and in-form Sceau Royal, priced up at 4/1. And a similar comment applies to Silver Streak, beaten 3 ½ lengths by Sceau Royal on his return at Kempton, and a 6/1 chance.
Not So Sleepy, who caused the mayhem last year, is probably the overpriced one of the early betting at around 16/1 on the exchange, but will he run?
His trainer believes he is better with plenty of juice in the ground and, to be fair, the form book backs up that assessment.
But he ran well on the Flat at Doncaster last month and he is a very fair tool on his day, as his defeat of Buzz at Ascot last year (made all) and his fifth in the Champion Hurdle underline.
He can go forward, but so can Silver Streak, who made all to beat Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle last year, and the 66/1 outsider Voix De Reve is invariably ridden on the pace, so tactics is another unknown here.
In truth, it is a race to revisit on Thursday.
With a maximum field of 24, it is another sign of these dry times that the Ladbrokes Trophy has attracted just 22 entries at the five-day stage. Once again, punters have an exchange market to trade, as well as the Sportsbook to bet into.
There isn’t a great deal between Ontheropes, Fiddlerontheroof, Enrilo and Eklat De Rire in either market, but surely they will be similar prices come the weekend, and with extra places thrown in, too.
Tizzard the man to keep onside
Before I outline my fancies, I should say that 12/1 chance Demachine is also entered in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle on Saturday – so you may be better off waiting if you fancy him, and I can fully see the case for him – and three of these (Chris’s Dream, Potterman and Danny Whizzbang ) are in the Becher at Aintree a week on Saturday.
And I should also mention Newbury is currently good to soft with minimal rain forecast – Friday looks the wettest at the moment, but only 2mm or so is due – so I imagine that will be the state of play come Saturday, too.
I may have to come back to Copperhead once we get the final field as, rather annoyingly, the 25/1 about him with the Sportsbook went an hour or so before I filed this on Monday afternoon, and I can just about resist him for now at 16s (he was actually cut to as short as 14s from 25s elsewhere, too, and he was trimmed across the board).
My price-sensitivity is at play once again here, but I make no apologies for that.
However, you don’t need me to tell you that the Colin (and Joe) Tizzard stable are back with a vengeance after a terrible 20/21 campaign and the talk is that Copperhead is in the groove after four decidedly lack-lustre efforts himself last term.
If this course and distance, and good ground, winner is back in the same mood as when running away with the Reynoldstown in February 2020 then he is well handicapped off 148 (was 155 after that Ascot romp, and he went off 6/1 for the RSA afterwards, in which he was beaten when falling as Champ beat Minella Indo and Allaho).
Potterman is officially the best treated horse in here, as he is 2lb well-in after his Badger Beer second, and he looks a very fair price at around 16s on the exchange.
He loves good ground, was going well enough when taking a pearler at around halfway in this race last season and is obviously closely matched with Enrilo and Kitty’s Light on the bet365 Gold Cup he was awarded.
Market outsider catches the eye
He is a player all right (he has that Aintree option but is already jocked up) and he is on my double-figure price shortlist alongside Copperhead and Demachine – just a reminder that I am adopting a watching brief on the latter pair due to price and running plans, respectively – and, last to the party, is Mister Malarky.
Mister Malarky is the one I suggest backing here. He is currently trading at 60.059/1 on the exchange and is 40/1 with the Sportsbook, who are playing each way, four places.
Either is a fair option but, given his, boom-or-bust profile I think trying to get with him at 50.049/1 or bigger on the exchange is the call. Win-only at 40s fixed-odds would be my lowest price.
The downside to his chance is, as stated above, he is very inconsistent, he has pretty much run like a drain in two starts this season and his occasionally suspect jumping may come under pressure here. Indeed, as it did when he unseated in this race last year when a 16/1 chance.
However, he is a course winner who finished a fair sixth in this race in 2019 off a 2lb higher mark, he will not mind it at all if it rides good on the day, his record suggests he needs at least a couple of runs to put him straight, and the handicapper has been kind in dropping him 6lb for his brace of poor efforts this season.
And I suspect the stable, who have won this race twice in recent years and hold a strong hand here with Fiddlerontheroof and Copperhead, have targeted him at this contest once again, fitness-wise.
He won third time out at Ascot last season (off a 2lb higher mark than this), as well as in the 2018/19 and 2017/18 campaigns – he won fourth time out in 2019/20 – and he is a very able customer on his day.
Granted, that is infrequent but he is 7lb lower than when third to Clondaw Castle in the old Racing Post Trophy in February, just four starts ago, and he is handicapped to play a more prominent role than his price suggests, alongside his course form and his liking for the ground.