I thought I was being very clever backing The Nightingale at 9/2 ante post during the week for Saturday’s JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal.
Sounds simple, but the trick with ante post betting is to (a) back a runner, and to (b) back a winner. You are effectively betting the double: The Nightingale to run, and The Nightingale to win, given that he runs.
Paul Nicholls’s horse has been a definite intended runner in the race for some time, so that made him a long odds-on shot to run – definite intended runners are still only long odds-on to make it to the start, not literal certainties (ref. Diamond Harry last Saturday) – and there was a strong possibility that he would be much shorter than 4/1 if he did.
The thing was that some of his potential main rivals were also potential non-runners. Quito De La Roque was also entered in another race on the same card, and Eddie O’Leary of Gigginstown House, in whose colours he races, said on Thursday that he was more likely to go for the intermediate chase over two and a half miles than the Champion Chase over three. His deletion would have taken 25% out of the market.
As well as that, Henry de Bromhead said that he wouldn’t allow Sizing Europe take his chance if the ground was too soft. That made sense. Even though he was second in the race last year to Kauto Star, Sizing Europe has won an Arkle and a Champion Chase, he has gone just about as high as you can go over two miles, he obviously has bags of pace, and the last thing you want to be doing with a horse who has bags of pace in November is subjecting him to a grueller over three miles on soft ground.
About 3mm of rain overnight meant that they called the ground soft, yielding to soft in places for today’s meeting. Yet, de Bromhead has declared Sizing Europe.
On top of that, I was thinking that, if Ruby Walsh was successful in his appeal yesterday against the ban with which he was lumbered for his ride to win that by now famous two-mile chase at Aintree two weeks ago on Edgardo Sol – which most sensible people seemed to think he would – then the fact that he would be free to ride The Nightingale would have shaved another sliver off his price.
If you had asked me to price up these three variables, I would have gone a shade of odds-on that Ruby would win his appeal (obviously paying scant regard to the BHA form book), a shade of odds-on that Quito De La Roque would run in the other race (that was the route that his owners said was the more likely after all) and probably even money about Sizing Europe lining up. Alas, all the balls hopped the wrong way. Ruby lost his appeal, Quito De La Roque is going the Champion Chase route and Sizing Europe was declared. (Triple-whammy.)
Interestingly, if all three balls had hopped the other way, if Ruby had won his appeal, and if Quito De La Roque and Sizing Europe were both absent, The Nightingale could have been 7/4 joint favourite in a five-horse race.
All is not lost though. The case for The Nightingale was a little more robust than the fact that he was an intended runner whereas some of his main would-be rivals were doubtful. He is a potentially classy individual, he was quietly fancied for the King George last December against Long Run and a peak-form Kauto Star, he has to go right-handed, he is at home on soft ground, he is lightly-raced, he has scope for progression, he is at his best when he is fresh (he has won on four of his five seasonal debuts, and he should have won on the other one as well), he was impressive in winning the intermediate chase on this card last year, so we know that he handles the track, and his trainer has sent out the winner of this race three times in the last four years.
The rain didn’t bucket down yesterday, but the first five times today suggest that the ground is more soft than yielding, and it doesn’t dry out too quickly at this time of year, no matter how sunny it looks. Also, while there is hardly anybody for whom you would willingly trade Ruby Walsh, Noel Fehily is a more than satisfactory deputy.
The ground should be too soft for Midnight Chase and Sizing Europe over three miles, which leaves the two sophomores, Quito De La Roque and Bostons Angel, as the biggest dangers. That said, you have to think that neither will be subjected to a hard race on their respective seasonal debuts, maiden voyageurs outside of novice company.
Best odds of 9/2 about The Nightingale are still more than fair. Maybe the ball will hop a little more kindly.
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