Donn's Articles » Ante post conundrum

Ante post conundrum

So Mikael D’Haguenet will go for either the RSA Chase or the Arkle, and he holds an entry in the World Hurdle just in case. Somersby will probably run in the Champion Chase if the ground is soft, the Ryanair if it isn’t, but you just don’t know which way the ball is going to hop. Sizing Europe still has the triple-pronged option of the Champion Chase, the Ryanair and the Gold Cup, and Oscar Whisky could go in the Champion Hurdle or the World Hurdle, while Philip Hobbs could run Wishfull Thinking in the Jewson, Captain Chris in the Arkle and Tarablaze in the RSA Chase, although Captain Chris could go further than two miles and Wishfull Thinking could go further than two and a half. At least we know that, all going well, Binocular goes in the Champion Hurdle – he isn’t even entered in the Arkle.

Multiple options at the Cheltenham Festival is not a new thing, but with the recent proliferation of new races, and the increasing ability that trainers are showing to think laterally, it is a continually growing phenomenon. Since the Aldsworth Hurdle was added to the programme in 1971, novice hurdlers have had the option of competing over two miles or over two miles and four and a half furlongs; that is not a new head-scratcher for ante post punters, but it is still a head-scratcher. Imagine how you would have felt in 2008, if you had backed Fiveforthree to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Venalmar to win the Ballymore Properties, when Fiveforthree was re-routed to the Ballymore at the 11th hour and got up to beat Venalmar by a neck?

This phenomenon persists, while the addition of the Albert Bartlett in 2005 gave novices another option and ante post punters another headache. The top 10 in the betting for this year’s Neptune Hurdle contains four of the top six in the betting for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, as well as the five horses that head the market for the Albert Bartlett.

This year, the novice chasers will also be spread thinner with the addition of the Jewson Chase. Of course, there has been a Jewson Chase since 2005, but the all-new Jewson Chase will be a conditions chase as opposed to a handicap. The old Jewson Chase will remain as it was, only it will now be called the Centenary Novices’ Chase and will be moved to Tuesday, if you follow.

The inclusion of the Ryanair Chase, also in 2005, when the Festival was expanded to four days, was welcomed by many. The absence of a two-and-a-half-mile championship race was seen as a glaring omission from the Festival programme, and the practical need for more races, brought about because of the commercial desire to add another day, outweighed the idealistic need to protect the scarcity value of a Cheltenham Festival winner: An rud is annamh is iontach.

Times were when you shoe-horned your two-and-a-half-mile chaser into the Champion Chase or the Gold Cup and took your chance. It is probable that, if the Ryanair Chase had been instigated in 2002 instead of 2005, Native Upmanship would have won two or three of them. As it was, the Arthur Moore-trained gelding was a running-on runner-up in two Champion Chases and, by the time the Ryanair Chase did come along, in its original guise as the Daily Telegraph, Native Upmanship was 12 and within touching distance of his pension.

The Ryanair is slowly settling into its role at the Festival – it is out of the Ryanair that Imperial Commander’s star rose – but it still has the feel of an appendage about it. It is an option for most this year, not a definite target. Somersby and Golden Silver have the option of the Champion Chase, Long Run will almost certainly run in the Gold Cup, Master Minded and Captain Cee Bee will almost certainly run in the Champion Chase, Sizing Europe has the Champion Chase and Gold Cup options, Punchestowns may still run in the Gold Cup and he also has the World Hurdle option, Forpadydeplasterer is still on the easy list, Riverside Theatre may wait for Aintree and J’y Vole may not travel, while Joncol may not make the trip either or may run in the Gold Cup. In fact, of those towards the head of the market, there are really only four horses – Poquelin, Tranquil Sea, Kalahari King and Albertas Run – who are definite intended runners in the Ryanair Chase at this stage.

In one sense, you could argue that it makes it easier for ante post punters, concentrate only on the definite intended runners. In reality, however, it is a minefield. It is like being given a half a deck of cards and being told that other cards would be added without being told which ones. How inclined would you be to back Poquelin at 9/2 if you thought that Master Minded might turn up?

The bookmakers don’t make it any easier. One firm has nine horses priced up at 10/1 or less, with those nine alone taking out 112% of the market. It looks like we may be betting at non-runner-no-bet prices already without the concession actually being offered.

© The Racing Post, 1st February 2011