The temperature has dropped, the evenings are growing darker and the British countryside is being painted russet, saffron and scarlet. The shift from summer to autumn can mean only one thing: it is time to fully move from flat racing into the National Hunt season. The 2017/18 campaign promises to be another thrilling affair, full of drama, intrigue and excitement. Perusing the calendar of upcoming meetings draws one’s attention to myriad showpiece events, from the Grand National to the King George VI Chase, but one towers above the rest. The Cheltenham Festival is still months away, but already plans are afoot for horse racing’s World Cup and if you look at the ante post betting section on Sun Bets you will see many markets for the Festival. Punters are already getting involved on the early lines, so to get you in the mood we decided to pick out five ante post Cheltenham selections:
Gold Cup: Douvan
Sizing John was undoubtedly the star of the 2016/17 season after completing a treble of Gold Cups: the Irish, Punchestown, and the jewel in the crown, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He won his last four starts and delighted punters with his antics. But among that it is easy to forget how Douvan completely dominated Sizing John last season. Douvan has beaten Sizing John on no fewer than seven occasions in their careers, and Sizing John has never managed to finish ahead of his rival. In fact, Douvan has won all his races bar one, his last outing, where he went off as 2/9 favourite the Queen Mother Champion Chase but finished seventh. Yet all was not as it seemed: scans revealed Douvan had a broken pelvis. Put that result aside and Douvan is still unbeaten and is Timeform’s highest rated jumper in training by a long stretch. Check today’s racing and you will find many supremely talented jumpers, but none will come close to Douvan. If he can shrug off the injury and recapture the magic, Willie Mullens’ seven-year-old will be a force to be reckoned with and looks a great shout for the Gold Cup. Sizing John is 6/1, while Douvan is all the way out at 12/1, which looks very attractive.
Ryanair Chase: Un De Sceaux
Another Mullins selection here in Un De Sceaux, who enjoyed a magnificent season last time around. The highlight was the Ryanair Chase, where he justified his status as favourite by putting in a masterful performance and dominating the race. Mullins also won this race in 2016 with Vautour, so he knows how to get the job done. Winning it for a second year in a row would be an impressive feat for Un De Sceaux, but it has been done before and as recently as 2011, when Albertas Run defended his crown. Foxtown, who edged Un De Sceaux to win the BoyleSports Champion Chase, will provide extremely stern opposition and is currently the favourite, but the 6/1 available on Un De Sceaux looks great.
Supreme Novices Hurdle: Bullionaire
Harry Fry has a fantastic group this season, from American and If the Cap Fits to Minella Awards and Outofthisworld. But a real standout is Bullionaire, who is currently 20/1 in the Supreme Novices Hurdle. His debut was electrifying in the Newbury Sales bumper, where he romped to victory in a very competitive field, and he looks to have excellent potential. If he can build on that he looks a great long shot for Cheltenham.
Stayers Hurdle: Uknowwhatimeanharry
Uknowwhatimeanharry was one of the biggest disappointments at Cheltenham in 2017. He went into the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle on an eight-race winning streak and was backed to the hilt by punters, which saw his price go all the way in to 5/6. But he got off to a poor start and never recovered. He rallied in the second half of the race but expended all his energy in doing so and he had nothing left to give on the home straight as he finished third. He bounced back, however, with a win in the Ladbrokes Champions Stayers’ Hurdle to end the year on a high note, and he certainly has the calibre to make amends at Cheltenham this year. He is currently 9/1, which looks a great each-way bet.
Cross Country Chase: Cause of Causes
Cause of Causes won this race last year and has a great record at Cheltenham. He went on to show great heart to finish second in the 2017 Grand National at odds of 16/1. He has exceptional stamina and is often there or thereabouts in the latter stages, making him another great each-way pick at 9/1 ante post to take the Cross Country Chase.
Martin Green is an experienced horse racing correspondent and tipster. He has covered the Cheltenham Festival for a number of years.