Angus McNae
Angus McNae's Racing UK Blog
Monday 13th March 2017

Racing UK

Five horses to oppose at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival

© Racehorse Photos


The great and the good have had their say at endless Cheltenham Festival preview nights and it really is about time that the talking stopped and those that were brave enough to put their necks on the line learn their fate.

As is custom here on, instead of trying to work out which horses are going to win in any of the 28 races across the four-day meeting I have flagged up five horses to oppose at Prestbury Park this week.

Lay Yanworth in the Stan James Champion Hurdle win market on the exchanges at around 4.0:

I am not convinced that two miles brings out the best in this horse. I believe that at the trip he is always behind the bridle and that his jumping suffers. That was certainly the case when he scrambled home this season in both the Kingwell and Christmas Hurdles.

Surely if he was a proper Champion Hurdle horse he would be able to travel strongly at the trip and jump with more alacrity?

He sported cheekpieces at Wincanton in the Kingwell which were put on, presumably, to sharpen him up but they did not really work because, fundamentally, he lacks the pace of a Champion Hurdler.

I also believe that he is far from straightforward. His record suggests the opposite, but I did not like the way that he tried to run out at Cheltenham at the top of the hill last year at the trials meeting. He may just have been green, as was suggested by connections, and he has not done it since but to my eye this was a display of temperament that could in the future manifest in different ways and, in particular, in races where he is always having to work hard to sit on the bridle. Don't forget his sire is Norse Dancer, who had his fair share of quirks. All in all he cannot be backed at his current levels.

Mathematician Betting

Lay Might Bite in the RSA Chase win market on the exchanges at around 4.8:

Might Bite's main asset is speed. To win an RSA Chase you need your main asset to be stamina, and an ability to grind out a win in a race that is often a war of attrition. For that reason, rather than any argument about his obvious ability I am against him.

Might Bite
© Racehorse Photos
Might Bite

He would clearly have won the Feltham Novices Chase at Christmas if he had stood up at the final fence but that performance came at Kempton, which is a speed track and requires a high cruising speed and plenty of pace.

Might Bite has displayed plenty of speed during his career so far, winning over two and a half miles in his hurdling days. Although he won over three miles at Doncaster last time, that was just a confidence boosting canter round against inferior opposition.

In the RSA it is very unlikely that he will abe able to scoot clear and then maintain his advantage to the line. I suspect there are stronger stayers in the field and they could grind Might Bite out of the race in the latter stages. Look what Thistlecrack was able to do in the King George at Christmas - he used his speed to shoot clear four out. Compare that performance to what happened when the mighty Many Clouds ground him out of the winner's spot at Cheltenham in January. I believe that sums up what will happen to Might Bite.

Un De Sceaux
© Caroline Norris
Un De Sceaux

Lay Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase win market at around 3.75:

My contention here is that this horse may not be quite as good as he used to be. While that point is open to some debate there is little doubt that he is most effective with cut in the ground and he is far from certain to get the conditions that bring out the best in him. It is drying up all the time at Cheltenham.

He faces credible opposition from the likes of Empire of Dirt and Uxizandre and, perhaps more importantly, he is still prone to making the odd error. All in all he is going to be a short price and there is a good chance he is going to be very hard pressed to win.

Lay Death Duty in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Chase win market on the exchanges at around 3.5:

This is only a gut feeling in a race that looks very strong. West Approach, if he runs, Wholestone and Augusta Kate all have strong chances and I would not want to be playing this horse at around 5-2. Trainer Gordon Elliott is very sweet on his chances and he has been well backed, but he is just too short for me.

Last time out at Naas he may well have been beaten if Augusta Kate had not crashed out at the final hurdle. Since joining the Elliot yard he has done nothing but improve, but he is unproven over three miles and although he looks like he will get the trip it is not certain. Some of his main opponents certainly will stay and there is usually no hiding place in this race. This really is something of a tentative play on my part, but fortune often favours the brave and only four favourites from 11 have won.

Lay Cue Card in the Timico Chelteham Gold Cup win market on the exchanges at around 5.0:

Cue Card
© Racehorse Photos

Cue Card
I have maximum admiration for this horse. He is top-class, consistent and durable. I just don't think he will win a Gold Cup because my long held belief is that he is a horse with plenty of pace as he showed at Ascot last time and will not be at his best over 3m 2f.

Now I must preface this by saying that in terms of trip he is a difficult horse to summarise. He is clearly very effective at three miles, but I am not sure he is a genuine hard-nosed stayer. I don't think he would have beaten Don Cossack in the Gold Cup last year, even though he was going well when he fell. At that stage there was still a lot of running to do and a lot of stamina to ebb away. He has also thrown in two relatively disappointing efforts this season. Irish Cavalier beat him in the Charlie Hall Chase and he was below form behind Thistlecrack in the King George, even if he did pay for trying to chase that horse from a long way out.

His two wins are somewhat suspect as well. He beat a below-par and subsequently injured Coneygree in the Betfair Chase and then beat inferiors at Ascot over 2m 5f.

Finally it was clear after Kempton that Colin Tizzard wanted to run in the Ryanair at the Festival, but that Cue Card's owners had their hearts set on the Gold Cup. When a trainer of Tizzards standing has doubts, then so do I. A Gold Cup win for him would be magnificent, but in a very competitive heat this year he is up against it.