The Cheltenham Festival is just around the corner, so here’s Racing Post tipster Graeme Rodway to cast his eye over the ante-post markets in a bid to find some early Non-Runner No Bet value.
Good Land @ 4/1
Shoot First @ 4/1
Blood Destiny @ 11/4
Hermes Allen is a warm order for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, but he has yet to come face-to-face with the best Irish runners and Good Land might just be an outstanding one.
The Barry Connell-trained seven-year-old has looked very good in winning his last two starts and everything appears to come easily.
He was stylish for his first win in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown and then stayed on strongly to win a Grade 1 there over 2m6f last time out.
Good Land raced freely through that race, but was still able to finish off his race in fine style and the way he went through that race is enough to convince me he will have no problems with a slightly shorter trip at Cheltenham.
The faster pace there may even bring improvement. It’s going to take a smart performance from one of his rivals to lower Good Land’s colours and if he were trained by a more-fashionable trainer he would be a lot shorter than he is.
Horses now have to finish in the first four in a qualifier for the Pertemps Network Final to get into the race and it means most of the runners have had to show their hand in order to qualify.
That should reduce the prospect of a huge upset by a horse who has shown nothing all season and, with that in mind, it’s worth backing the market leader Shoot First to justify favouritism.
Shoot First hasn’t run since landing a big gamble in a qualifier for the race at the October meeting and has clearly been kept away from the track to protect his mark for a return here.
Byrnes has an embarrassment of riches in the staying hurdle division as he also saddles market leader Blazing Khal in the Stayers’ Hurdle itself, so Shoot First looks sure to run here.
The form of his win here in October has worked out remarkably well. The runner-up Botox Has won a red-hot handicap at Haydock on his next start and the well-held seventh also scored next time.
The Real Whacker, who has since improved over fences, finished 11th. Shoot First travelled like a smart performer on that occasion, so the hustle-and-bustle of a big-field handicap shouldn’t be an issue for him and the trainer’s son Philip is likely to ride.
He is able to claim 5lb from Shoot First’s back and that should leave him ahead of his mark.
Willie Mullins holds the key to the Triumph Hurdle and he is responsible for ante-post favourite Lossiemouth.
However, I’ve been more impressed with his other possible runner Blood Destiny and it’s worth backing him to upset the hotpot and keep his unbeaten record.
He has won two races by a combined distance of 23 lengths without being seriously threatened and beat third-placed Nusret by further than Lossiemouth had done the time before when making all in a 2m hurdle at Fairyhouse last time.
That was a wildly impressive display. Blood Destiny has won in spite of his jumping, which has looked suspect at times, but there are only two hurdles from the top of the hill on the New course at Cheltenham and that will definitely help him.
He could be clear by then anyway as he is a bold front-runner who aims to build up a huge lead by halfway and it’s going to take a smart performer to run him down.