countdown to cheltenham-v2You can almost smell the 2018 Cheltenham Festival it is getting so close and with all of the key trial meetings now over, Kevin O’Malley mulls over the main Ante-Post markets for Day 1 of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, in search of any outstanding prices...

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When Getabird won the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novices’ Hurdle last month, he produced an RPR of 152 and an adjusted Topspeed figure of 131; very much the sort of performance you associate with a top class youngster. In terms of value for the Festival opener, Getabird is a top price of 9/4, while you can get 8/1 about recent Betfair Hurdle winner Kalashnikov, who you could argue is a very good price at those odds. Amy Murphy’s 5yo lost a shoe in the Tolworth Hurdle, which probably goes a long way in explaining why he didn’t find as much as usual when going down to Summerville Boy. But the race produced a very good speed figure in its own right and the horse improved on it significantly when storming clear of a very good field on Saturday, hailing an RPR of 153 and a TS of 142, leading me into the train of thought that 8/1 Kalashnikov over 9/4 the Mullins hotpot, could well be a decent edge. Also at 8/1 is If The Cap Fits, a fine animal with bags of potential. I do like him, but he’s probably the sort to drift to a more backable price on the day. As things stand at the top of the Supreme Novice Hurdle market, Kalashnikov appears to be the value play.

At a huge price of 66/1, Dr Des makes some appeal for each way purposes. Bringing a lot of experience to the table, the 7yo is progressing well and he could have more in the locker on better ground. His four adjusted Topspeed ratings this season read: 88, 108, 114, 109, along with a top RPR of 139, so he does have plenty to find with those the likes of those mentioned above and may well be better suited to waiting for the day a) to know if he’ll take his chance and b) get better price/place terms than are on offer now. But he is a nice prospect.

Value Verdict: Kalashnikov @ 8/1 Generally

Footpad has been remarkable over fences this season and is a daunting figure for all challengers at Even money generally at the head of Arkle market. In 3 chase starts to date since November, the Willie Mullins trained 6yo has produced RPR/TS figures reading: 155/98, 164/128, 168/144. How good this young horse is becoming is evident both on the clock and when you watch how he performs on the track. To be fair, the fellow Simon Munir trained Sceau Royal isn’t too far behind at all in terms of average numbers, but one gets the impression Footpad is overall the classier horse in terms of winning an Arkle. I hope so anyway, having suggested Tips Den followers back him in November for the race.

The fly in the ointment and very much the value in the race now is Harry Whittington’s monster prospect Saint Calvados, an impressive 5yo chaser with the world at his feet on the back of a terrific display of running and jumping in the Grade 2 Kingmaker at Warwick on Saturday. Sure, he has to prove himself on Spring ground at a demanding Cheltenham track, but everything about this horse screams “Quality” and generally, the classiest ones can act anywhere. He does appear to have it all, while visual impressions were backed up with an RPR of 168 and a TS of 136, very much matching Footpad’s best taking Racing Post figures into account. Saint Calvados is 7/1 generally though, a value price and one sure to shorten as this race cuts up in the coming weeks and the focus zooms in on horses with the clearest chances. Saint Calvados is most certainly one of those horses now.

To put how good these novices already are into perspective, Altior produced an RPR 168 & TS 133 when landing the Arkle last March, and he’s now odds-on to win his Queen Mother Champion Chase a year on. This year’s Arkle has three glaring names, all capable of reproducing that level of ability, or more, next month.

Value Verdict: Saint Calvados @ 7/1

The Champion Hurdle market is just about right at the moment, with Buveur D’Air looking impossible to oppose, so the likelihood is we’re playing for each way scraps rather than a realistic chance of a winner if the Henderson horse brings his A-Game as expected. At 16/1 generally, Melon has drifted to a backable price, if you can forgive his very poor performance in the Irish Champion Hurdle. He is better than that, while My Tent Or Yours represents the usual sound each way value at 12/1 tops.

Value Verdict All seems to be as it should be for the Champion Hurdle!

Finally, a note on the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle, where Apple’s Jade is the rightful 8/13 favourite on the back of a perfect season so far, looking far sharper and more consistent than when she was beaten three times on route to victory in this race last year. There, she produced RPR 150 / TS 91, so didn’t have to be at her best to score despite it looking to be a high class renewal. She’s improved this year and is a most likeable mare, but I wouldn’t suggest her to be of Champion Hurdle class, for example. Her last three RPR/TS figures read: 153/90, 157/85 and 156/80, after taking her allowances into account the last twice.

Considering she is odds-on here, the unexposed La Bague Au Roi could well be the value play if she takes her chance for Warren Greatrex, which would look the more likely target over the Stayers’ Hurdle. This very talented mare was excellent at Ascot last time out when landing a Grade 2 by 16 lengths. RPR scored it 153, Topspeed 95, meaning she doesn’t have a great deal to find with the market leader on bare figures. She could only manage 7th in the Novice version of the race last year, but is a different proposition now after that graduation performance and at 14/1 with Betfair and 12s elsewhere, this no-nonsense 7yo mare makes lots of appeal.

Value Verdict: La Bague Au Roi @ 14/1 Betfair

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