Betfair Hurdle weekend always provides a good level of clues for the Cheltenham Festival as it’s one of the final stops before jump racing’s Olympics.
Although rain has decimated racing at both Warwick and Uttoxeter, Newbury and Naas are fit to continue and, as such, I have a few fancies to consider.
1:30 Newbury – Emitom @ 9/2 with William Hill Win
Despite his age of 10 and the fact he was once rated 155, no one can fault the form that Emitom is in.
Since joining Alan King’s yard from Warren Greatrex, the Grade 1-placed gelding has improved 10 pounds from one victory and two seconds.
Saint Davy fluffs the last but is ultimately too good for Emitom in the @RacingTV Handicap Hurdle as the seven-year-old scores on handicap debut for the @JJONeillJnr and @JonjoONeill combination 🥇 pic.twitter.com/X2Nfn3Jr9S
— Ludlow Racecourse (@LudlowRaceClub) January 5, 2024
His success on stable debut at Newbury in March 2023 saw him beat Hyland, a horse who has improved 13 pounds since, and his second to Saint Davy last time out has received a form boost as the winner won the valuable Heroes Handicap Hurdle at Sandown last weekend.
Up just two pounds for that effort at Ludlow in January, he has a great Newbury record (two wins and one second) and should relish soft conditions.
3:15 Newbury – Our Champ @ 33/1 with William Hill EW
At the start of the week, I highlighted Our Champ as an interesting outsider for the Betfair Hurdle, and my opinion of him has failed to change.
The six-year-old has improved markedly since joining Chris Gordon from Paul Henderson, notably due to his two successes towards the start of the season.
First Cheltenham winner for Freddie Gordon as Our Champ wins the Financial Development Handicap Hurdle 👏 pic.twitter.com/T71Gaudt8C
— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) October 27, 2023
The final one of the pair occurred at Cheltenham when he danced in under Freddie Gordon – who was claiming three pounds due to the conditions of the race – off a mark of 117.
Three slightly underwhelming runs since has the Champs Elysees gelding back on a mark of 124, though Freddie Gordon is able to claim five pounds today.
A return to that Cheltenham form is required, but connections have hopefully sorted out a small wind issue as today is his first run after a wind-op and he is also racing with a tongue tie.
If he handles the ground, which is a slight unknown, then he can certainly outrun his odds.
3:15 Newbury – Altobelli @ 7/1 with William Hill EW
However, although Our Champ deserves a big shout for the Betfair Hurdle, this week’s large quantity of rain means Altobelli is also one to keep onside.
Unfortunately for Harry Fry and connections, the ground turned to be a bit too quick at Ascot on his last start, yet he ran a belter to finish second to Luccia and Impose Toi, two top-class Nicky Henderson horses.
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) December 23, 2023
The Betfair Exchange Trophy was certainly his season-long plan, so his promising second on seasonal debut was a pleasant surprise.
Furthermore, ignoring his disappointing effort in a Grade 1 at Aintree, the Maxios gelding is still unexposed and he even beat Ginny’s Destiny in an Exeter bumper which is good form.
Seven places with William Hill is generous, so a double-pronged attack of him and Our Champ is my angle into the Betfair Hurdle.
3:40 Naas – Riviere D’Etel @ 7/2 with BetVictor Win
Anyone who knows a little bit about my cliff horses will appreciate the love I have for Riviere D’etel, so I’m excited to see her back out today.
She caused a slight surprise – based on the market – to bolt up at Fairyhouse on her last start, though her form with Captain Guinness from the last two renewals of the Fortria Chase puts her in the mix for any high-level mares’ chase.
Captain Guinness is back to winning ways, seeing off the plucky Riviere D'etel to win the G2 Fortria Chase on his seasonal reappearance 🏇@rachaelblackmor | @HenrydeBromhead | @NavanRacecourse pic.twitter.com/1SBKikfnKj
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) November 13, 2022
Furthermore, although a return to a left-handed track isn’t ideal, she ran well in last year’s Grade 2 Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival before falling and she has good form at Leopardstown from her novice chasing season.
Her jumping to the right is accounted into the price, but her form over two miles puts her right there and both Allegorie De Vassy and Maskada need to answer some questions.
3:50 Newbury – Hometown Boy @ 8/1 with William Hill EW
Although his career has had its bumps in the road, there’s a chance that Hometown Boy could make use of his current rating of 135.
The nine-year-old had 929 days off the track between his Aintree success off 137 over hurdles in April 2021 and his chase debut at Carlisle in October 2023.
👏 Fair play to @CM_Gethings
Down on his nose at the last, Hometown Boy is gathered up by the jockey to provide trainer Stuart Edmunds with a second winner of the 2021 Randox Grand National Festival at @AintreeRaces
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) April 10, 2021
His 22-length defeat may look bad on paper, but he was travelling well at the front of the field before he overreached at the fourth-last.
Stuart Edmunds and the team have given him plenty of time after his seasonal reappearance which should negate any ‘bounce factor’, and his novice hurdle form when second to McFabulous could make him well-treated off his current mark.
The ground should be no issue – his half-brother, Walkinthewoods, produced his best form on soft ground – and he even comes from the same family as Simon, John Spearing’s 2007 Racing Post Trophy winner who achieved a peak rating of 152.