Contrarian picks for Day 1 of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival....

Last Updated: 15.03.2016

Tuesday, 15th March 2016

Good morning, contrarians,

On the menu today….

  • Take the 14s about Supasundae in the Supreme….
  • Chance the Rock each-way with Douvan discounted….
  • Two against the field in the Ultima ….
  • Value in an open Champion Hurdle….
  • Finally, in the closing race….

Take the 14s about Supasundae in the Supreme….

Only last week Willie Mullins expressed the view that this year’s Supreme Novices Hurdle (1.30) might prove to be the toughest race of the week. And that might be why Min, despite the fact so many punters have backed him at short prices over the winter, is on the drift on the eve of the race.

Here at Against the Crowd we certainly take the view that the race is more competitive that the pre-race betting suggests and I make no bones about taking the overnight favourite on.

Min is unbeaten since arriving at the Mullins yard from France, he’s beaten all that has been in put in front of him, and his winning form has been franked to a reasonable degree. But this afternoon’s task represents a tougher assignment and, at the prices, I am prepared to look further down the list.

Nicky Henderson considers Altior his best chance of the week and I can’t argue with that assessment – but at 4s he’s short enough too.

At the prices the one I like is SUPASUNDAE at the general 14s. Track and trip both suit. He went well for a long way in last year’s Champion Bumper and whilst he hasn’t been seen since just after Christmas, Henry De Bromhead has a very good record of getting his horses spot on for Cheltenham and I expect a big run.

This horse has a real engine and, if he’s not quite as keen as he was in the Bumper last term, then he could be underestimated at the prices with just two hurdle runs to his name. With the bookies going 1/4 1-2-3, I’ll be going in and backing the 6-year-old horse each-way.

Chance the Rock each-way with Douvan discounted….

Douvan is most people’s idea of the banker of the week in the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase (2.10) and it is easy to see why. I know primary school kids who could take a look at the formbook and pick him out. And they may well be proved right.

Willie Mullins thinks the horse is a different species and reckons he might just be the best horse he’ll ever have. He can do it at the 2 mile trip. He may well end up doing it at the Gold Cup trip. And if he were in this season’s Champion Hurdle, he’d probably be favourite for that too. Bottom line: this is a proper machine.

If you fancy backing him – and I don’t hold it against you – just don’t do it at the best-price 2/5 available overnight. Instead, move hell and high water to open a new account with 888sport and get the enhanced price of 5s. If you’re going to go in, make it pay proper money….

One thing is sure – Douvan is going to take all the beating. But I’m looking for value and there isn’t much of that in odds-on shots.

Market competitors Vaniteux and Sizing John are short enough. And, to my eyes, The Game Changer looks like he’s being primed for an Aintree target.

The one I like at a big each-way price in the ‘Without Douvan’ market is BALTIMORE ROCK at a big 25s with Betfred. He’s had fewer goes over fences than the rest but isn’t far away in what he’s produced. If the one-time Imperial Cup winner goes on again then he can hit the first 3 and earn a return.

Two against the field in the Ultima….

The Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50) is the first handicap of the Festival and a 24-runner field ensures a competitive event. It is what it is and I’m going two against the field….

First up is MORNING ASSEMBLY at 14s. I know trainer Pat Fahy is pretty bullish about the 9-year-old’s mark and a 3rd place finish in the 2014 RSA Chase tells me the horse can handle the Festival occasion.

For sure he’s had his problems but two decent come-back performances on ground much softer than ideal suggest he’s a quality performer working his way back to a level. I expect him to go well and figure this afternoon off a mark of 149.

At really big prices the one I like the look of is Dr Richard Newlands’s BAND OF BLOOD at a general 50s overnight in first time blinkers – a variable the trainer has a better-than-decent record with.

This 8-year-old was 4th in last season’s Irish Grand National since which time he’s passed into Newlands’s care. He’s had a wind-op and judging by his last-time-out performance at Doncaster, it appears to have worked. That performance was very much a step-up on recent efforts and he can figure at a big price tomorrow if he can build on that in the headgear.

Value in an open Champion Hurdle….

It looks a very open Champion Hurdle (3.30) this season with Faugheen and Arctic Fire, two of last season’s protagonists, missing from the cast list this time round.

In their absence Annie Power steps up to the plate. She benefits from the 7lb mares allowance, but is a horse previously ear-marked for the World Hurdle going to possess the genuine toe required to win a Champion?

Nobody knows for sure. But at the prices I’m not prepared to support the idea.

Our big-race Indicator – which you can access on the Against the Crowd website – tells us that My Tent Or Yours ticks a lot of boxes. But his stats are based on old form. He hasn’t been seen on the race track for 703 days.

If he retains his ability and he can do it first-time-up then he will figure. But it would take one hell of a training performance. At a best overnight price of 10s it would take some real confidence to go in and back the 9-year-old (runner-up in the 2014 renewal). More confidence than I possess….

The Indicator also reveals that NICHOLS CANYON is the horse that has most frequently been there and actually done it at G1 level. On that basis he is no bad bet at the 13/2 available in the overnight markets.

The other one I have to have an each-way bet on at big quotes of 40s is LIL ROCKERFELLER who was supplemented for the race last week at a cost of £20k.

He’s got something to find for sure but he’s a young and improving horse that is fit and very-much in-form. He arrives on the back of a comfortable G2 win that got nowhere near to the bottom of him and his yard is in a real purple patch of form. I’m not saying the horse can win this afternoon – but, at the price, I’m prepared to bet he can outrun expectations and hit the frame in a very open renewal.

Finally, in the closing race….

JAVERT is a nice each-way price at 16s in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (5.30).

A last time out winner, he is very much going the right way. He travels well, he’s a neat jumper and his most recent effort at Doncaster – where he stepped up to this kind of trip for the first time – saw him put in a performance that promises plenty more to come.

The yard think the drying ground will be perfect for this big, strong 7-year-old and I am expecting a big run at the price….

The Contrarian Bet Box….

To recap where the value is today….

In the Supreme Novices Hurdle (1.30)...

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – SUPASUNDAE each-way (14s generally)

In the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase (2.10)....

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – BALTIMORE ROCK each-way (25s Betfred) in the Betting without Douvan market. Place terms are 1/4 1-2-3.

In the Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50)....

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – MORNING ASSEMBLY each-way (14s generally) & BAND OF BLOOD each-way (50s generally)

In the Champion Hurdle (3.30)...

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – NICHOLS CANYON (13/2 generally) & LIL ROCKERFELLER each-way (40s generally)

In the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (5.30)

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – JAVERT each-way (16s generally)

That is my take on the value in this afternoon’s races at Cheltenham. You will no doubt have your own ideas – and that’s exactly as it should be. You can watch the action unfold live on C4 & RUK.


That’s all from me for today. Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy the racing because it doesn’t get any better. I’ll be back tomorrow morning with my contrarian take on tomorrow’s Festival action….

Nick Pullen

Against the Crowd