Cheltenham ante-post: 20/1 Topofthegame each-way in the Coral Cup; 16/1 Wholestone to win the Stayers' Hurdle

There’s just two months to go until Cheltenham Festival 2018 and it’s high time to start filling up the ante-post book.

Last weekend’s Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton produced a few clues to the Wednesday’s Coral Cup, with the winner William Henry, who we tipped at 13/2, reported today to be aimed at that race.

That means a step up in trip to three miles and a hike up the ratings by a potentially lenient 6lb.

He won fairly cosily on Saturday despite the winning distance suggesting otherwise, but whether his quality young jockey James Bowen will have the full 5lb claim this time is unlikely given he’s only a few winners away from having that trimmed down to 3lb – and he might not even get the ride ahead of Davey Russell, who is retained by the owner.

I think William Henry has a big chance and can improve for the run beyond his new rating of 151, however I think the horse to take out of the Lanzarote for Cheltenham was TOPOFTHEGAME, who finished a staying-on fourth and only received a 3lb rise.

He finished that race in the style of a horse wanting to go up in trip, and considering that was his first completion of the season – he fell on his sole start over fences in the autumn – he has every right to improve past his new rating with the benefit of match fitness.

He’s 20/1 for the Coral Cup with the non-runner-no-bet concession, so I can’t really see why I wouldn’t back him given his trainer Paul Nicholls’s good record in Cheltenham handicaps and the horse’s own decent form at Cheltenham; he finished fourth in a red-hot novices’ hurdle there last season which produced a Grade 1 winner in Poetic Rhythm, William Henry himself and impressive Relkeel Hurdle winner Wholestone.

His mark of 143 should be plenty good enough to get into the race carrying a nice racing weight as William Henry’s participation off 151 would guarantee he’s at least 9lb off top weight.

Whether it’s worth waiting for the day is questionable, but as a regular reader of Paul Nicholls’s Betfair column I definitely get positive vibes about this horse, and a shout out in his annual forthcoming stable tour as well as confirmed participation in the Coral Cup will no doubt see his price contract.

Nuff said.

On the topic of WHOLESTONE, who was so impressive when winning the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, the Lanzarote form paid his form a nice compliment and comfirmed my theory that the form of that Cheltenham novice hurdle last year had been underrated.

With that in mind I was expecting him to be quoted far shorter than the 16/1 that’s available for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival, and he’s not budged in price since William Henry marked his form up last weekend.

Clearly the Lanzarote wasn’t Grade 1 form and was likely well short of the level required to win the Stayers’ Hurdle, but the second-season novice hurdlers are clearly a good bunch and I suspect the 2017 Grade 1 Albert Bartlett form, where Wholestone finished best of the Brits in third, will hold up against the current generation of staying hurdlers which looks as weak as they’ve been in recent memory.

Second home in that Albert Barlett was Monalee, who has gone novice chasing and looks like he’ll run in the RSA Chase, but we haven’t seen the impressive winner Penhill yet this season and his form is stacking up really well; he’s a big player.

Information on this horse is hard to come by, but Mullins was recently quoted saying “he’s fine and will hopefully make Cheltenham” which suggests he’s had a few issues, and I’m not all that keen to take 8/1 NRNB with that in mind; it sounds unlikely he’ll arrive with a prep run, which is far from ideal.

Wholestone looks to have improved this season and I’m not buying current ante-post favourite fpr the Stayers’, Sam Spinner, deserves to be nearly four times shorter in the betting.

So I’m backing Wholestone early without the NRNB concession as there’s no doubt about the Stayers’ Hurdle being his Festival target and only a setback can risk his participation.

0.5pt each-way Topofthegame @20/1 NRNB for the Coral Cup (Bet365, 1,2,3,4, 1/4)
1pt win Wholestone @16/1 for the Stayers’ Hurdle (various)

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