London Racing Club Cheltenham Preview Notes

The below notes have been provided by excellent Cheltenham judge and good friend, "Hammer".

Another very enjoyable evening hosted by Lee Mottershead bringing a wealth of knowledge to the table in the form of ex Senior Handicapper Phil Smith, whose betting pot now represents his life force. ("Once it's gone, you're gone" according to Mrs Smith), Maddie Playle from Racing Post podcast, author and pundit Matt Tombs and Martin Chapman representing Star Sports and providing the market movers and shakers.

 

Tuesday

Supreme

PS All need to improve on current ratings to get near the level of a poor winner. One of them surely will do so but hard to be confident whom. Al Dancer has the added confidence of handicap form giving substance to his rating. Interested in Angel's Breath who will stay further.

MP given Elixir De Nutz profile, Thomas Darby's form earlier in season provides hope that he may be some value.

MT Fakir De D'oudaries has it all to do if he turns up here as 4yo old form is a gulf short of all age form. Front runner Elixir De Nutz nominated as a very solid each way play.

Summary: Elixir De Nutz each way

 

Arkle

PS Hardline highest rated and good price for progressive profile. Preferred to Duc Des Genevres.

MP Glen Forsa uncomplicated and stays further. Strong handicap form.

MT Lalor may like freshness angle but big ask for K Woollacott. Preferred Hardline through smashing up of Us And Them when race wouldn't have suited Hardline.

Summary: Hardline each way

 

Champion Hurdle

PS Buveur D'air 2/1 "wow".

MP Buveur D'air will get good tow from Apple's Jade.

MT Closutton confidence in Laurina. "The Vibes” are strong with this one! However came down strong on Apple's Jade whose Leopardstown form was "so good". In Istabraq/Faugheen class if weight allowance factored in.

Summary: No obvious standout. Star Sports did offer 5/2 price push about the reigning dual champion. There will be worse bets.

Other Tuesday snippets:

PS Dounikos would have been of interest in Ultima given his handicap mark in UK untypically more favourable than his Irish mark. He doesn't run unfortunately (may be worth a sneak in the Grand National though..). However General Principle who finished close behind him does run and his mark is on a par with his Irish mark which is effectively a bonus.

MP keen on Mister Whittaker in Ultima for step up in trip with festival form. Also name checked Impulsive Star for NH chase. Fourth last year and form of Rathvinden and Sizing Tennessee working out well.

MT liked Red Indian in Close Brothers.

PS Tower Bridge could have lenient mark in Close Brothers on line through Duc Des Genevres who he would rate higher than 153.

 

Wednesday

Ballymore

PS Champ just looks like a winner. Others were less convinced worried about him settling in a race they typically go steady.

MT worried slow pace may also make Battleoverdoyen susceptible to a speedster stepping up from the 2m ranks. He nominated Klassical Dream (if runs) over Brewinupastorm who needs to overcome bad fall last time out.

MP liked City Island and Beakstown.

Summary: Take on the top of the market. Klassical Dream favoured if runs.

 

RSA

MP Delta Work solid

PS Delta work "bombproof". Topofthegame preferred over Santini also.

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Summary: Delta Work worthy favourite.

 

Champion Chase

PS Altior wins. Not seen bottom of him yet.

MT Un De Sceaux value NRNB at 12/1 if soft (won't run otherwise). Also available NRNB at 4/1 without Altior

Summary: Altior wins. UDS in alternative markets NRNB.

 

Other Wednesday snippets

MT Whiskey Sour lobbed in for Coral Cup

PS No horses get lobbed in!

PS Back an Irish horse in the Boodles that has had only 3 runs

MT liked Get In The Queue and Sempo for Bumper

PS preferred to dutch the McManus pair over Tiger Roll in the Cross Country

MT concurred re Auvergnat who has massively improved. He also noted that Chic Name travelled favourably last year and could be worth a small each way.

 

Thursday

JLT

MP liked Lostintranslation. A horse she is coming to fall in love with. Stays further.

MT liked Voix Du Reve of the likely runners. (Travelled well for long way in Coral Cup last year). Could get own way in front too and find rhythm. But do watch out for a switcheroo from big yards. With NRNB Topofthegame or Hardline are likely non runners but will massively shorten if their current plans changed.

PS liked Reel Steel. Rated 152 that should be good enough for a JLT.

None of the panel were warm on Defi.

Summary: Split opinions

 

Ryanair

PS Frodon top rated

MP Frodon probably won't be good enough but likes the combo with Bryony

MT Watch out for concerted Footpad support. If not Monalee soundest option.

Note Road To Respect now going Ryanair

Summary: Nothing conclusive. Wait for "the vibes" with Footpad?

 

Stayers

Nobody over bullish on Paisley Park but it might be a case of is there anything to beat him?

PS Originally said Faugheen would beat him on 3 legs but he didn't have the updated PP rating since the Cleeve.

MT hoped Ifthecapfits might get supplemented as this test would suit.

Summary: Paisley Park or Faugheen will provide a story either way

 

Other Thursday snippets:

MP Queenofhearts in Mares Novice

MT/MP Eamon An Cnoic travelled really well at festival last year. 25/1 poke for Plate

MT also liked River Wylde in Plate. Could be the proverbial group horse in a handicap

PS shared some trends. Irish Novices in Pertemps. Plate Mullins/Elliott graded form. Even if 4th of 4. Some will be on good marks especially Gordon's.

 

Friday

Triumph

Not a race to look for big prices. 10/14 winners from Top 3 in market.

Summary No obvious value. Sir Erec could go off odds on. Should have plenty of time to recover from the stone bruise

 

Albert Bartlett

MT Split stakes on Derrinross (better soft) and Defi Bleu

Summary: Defi Bleu won't be 33/1 if Gordon's had a good few days (which I expect he will!)

 

Gold Cup

PS Native River was good Gold Cup winner and is the one to beat. Best bet of week.

MP Shattered Love might be best outsider

The panel merited Clan Des Obeaux's improvement but lingering doubts about jumping right and whether may be too classy to tough it out.

MT if good ground it is a speed test. This will suit Kemboy who has not got enough credit for Savills run as he pulled hard and ran inefficiently. Presenting Percy the reluctant selection if soft.

PS/MT showed visible disliking to Pat Kelly's contemptible treatment of the racing public as the sport has moved on since the 90's. Percy certainly not likely to be the most popular winner in these quarters at least.

Summary: Pat Kelly is not nice. Native River if soft, Kemboy if good.

 

Other Friday snippets

MT Foxhunter Hazel Hill a proper pointer who has been smashing up opposition for years. Caid Du Berlais (good)

PS Foxhunter Stand Up And Fight/Ucello Conti

MP loves Finawn Bawn wherever runs.

 

Enjoy next week folks. Will be craic'ing week as ever!

- Hammer

Stayers’ Hurdle 2019: Preview, Trends, Tips

Stayers' Hurdle 2019: Preview, Trends, Tips

Thursday's flagship race at the Cheltenham Festival is the Stayers' Hurdle, a Grade 1 run over three miles. It is a strong test of class and stamina, as well as speed quite often, and has an impressive roll of honour which includes the likes of Big Buck's, Inglis Drever and Baracouda - all multiple winners this century. With Penhill unable to defend his crown we'll have a new name on the list of winners; working out which one is the challenge faced in the words that follow.

 

Stayers' Hurdle 2019 Trends

There's plenty of dead wood in your average Stayers' Hurdle line up. A brace of barometers to that end are recent form figures and starting price. In the last ten years, Stayers' Hurdle winners collectively recorded 21 victories in their previous three starts and added another five second places; put another way, they were placed 1-2 in 26 of 30 preceding runs. Whilst that sequence includes Big Buck's' memorable four-timer, there have been six further individual winners in the past decade.

When Anzum won the Stayers' at 40/1 in 1999, he was rounding out a trio of consecutive big priced winners; thereafter, the next 14 victors were returned at 8/1 or shorter. However, most recently, three of the last four winners were between 10/1 and 14/1. But even that recent trio arrived at the race as follows:

- Penhill was unraced that season but had run 112 on his previous three starts (including winning the Albert Bartlett at the Festival the year before)
- Nichols Canyon ran 12F, all at two miles
- Cole Harden might be considered the sole shock, having arrived with form of 234 in the established British trials. He was some way down the official rating pecking order and benefited from a wind op and being able to control steady fractions from the front. He can be seen as a rare outlier to the profile.

Those at sensible prices whose recent form puts them into this pattern profile include favourite, Paisley Park, Supasundae, and Faugheen.

A further interesting, and perhaps emerging, trend is the record of the Irish. After Dorans Pride's popular success in 1995 there was a wait of 18 years before Charles Byrnes saddled Solwhit for his triumph in 2013. Since then, however, Willie Mullins has won the last two Stayers' Hurdles.

Since 1997, Ireland has run 71 horses in the race, out of a total of 278 - so just about bang on a quarter - and has claimed only three of 21 (14%) Stayers' titles in that time.

Since the race was reinstated in 1972, only Crimson Embers (1986) has won at an age outside of the range of six- to nine-year-olds. This is a significant knock against the classy Faugheen, with the likes of Big Buck's, Baracouda (twice) and Limestone Lad failing in recent times when aged ten or more.

Although not a trend as such, it is worth saying that horses which have demonstrated high class form at lesser distances have a fair record in this race. Nichols Canyon, More Of That, and Solwhit are all examples of such horses in the post-Big Buck's era.

 

Stayers' Hurdle 2019 Form Preview

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One horse towers above the field - the expected runners for the field at any rate - in this year's renewal of the Stayers' Hurdle. Paisley Park has looked a different horse since his nondescript effort in last year's Albert Bartlett. That race, famously attritional, saw him eased off in deep ground; since then he's never looked back, recording a four-timer and showing himself to be much the best of the British staying hurdle contingent.

Wins in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot and the Cleeve Hurdle on Trials Day at Cheltenham have seen him stride forwards in performance terms from 147 in his seasonal debut to 168 last time, according to the British handicapper. Given that only Thistlecrack (168) had a rating that could match Paisley Park's since Big Buck's' final victory, and that none of the other five winners in that time came in with a rating greater than 161, this may simply be an open and shut case.

However, the pick of the Irish handicap figures puts Faugheen on 169 - gasp! I don't know when that master figure was recorded but it remains four pounds higher than Apple's Jade and that looks tenuous at best. In his pomp in Britain, when winning the 2015 Champion Hurdle, Faugheen recorded a performance figure of 171, just three pounds higher than Paisley Park notched last time. That was over two miles and four years ago.

But wait, there's more. The Irish 'capper also has Supasundae on 163, a mark which would have won five of the last six Stayers' Hurdles. Not seen over three miles since running up to Penhill in last year's renewal, he's had a quiet prep finishing second three times over shorter distances in Grade 1 company.

Getting back to Paisley Park, my feeling is that talk of his 'flat spot' is somewhat overplayed. Sure, he got niggled at one point during the Cleeve, but it was for no more than ten or twelve strides; later on, Coleman got busy again but that might be put down to the rider being apprehensive about what he had under him. He gave him one smack and Paisley was back on the bridle before travelling to, and running by, the leaders with ease.

There is no reason to believe Paisley Park has finished improving, with his most recent run his best - over three miles at Cheltenham - and I think he'll take a world of beating.

The fly in the ointment, which would likely play to the superior speed of the above named Irish pair, is if there is little or no pace in the race. Paisley's impressive wins this season have come when front-runners have blazed a trail: in the Cleeve, Sam Spinner and Lil Rockefeller locked horns from the outset; the early speed was less marked in the Long Walk Hurdle, and so was the winning distance and the performance rating. Andrew Gemmell, the blind owner of Paisley Park, whose story has been recounted by Tony Stafford on these virtual pages, will be hoping Sam and Lil Rock re-oppose next week.

If they don't, Faugheen and Supasundae become more interesting. The former has been a very classy animal, good enough to win a Neptune and a Champion Hurdle amidst a haul of nine Grade 1 scores in Britain and Ireland; but at age eleven, and with just two defeats on his card since an impressive victory at Punchestown last April, I have to let him beat me at a top price of 9/2.

Jessica Harrington's Supasundae has more appeal. He's more consistent, albeit that he's never been the star that Faugheen ("the machine") has been, and he looks like he's been trained all season for this. His Festival record is solid, too: 6th of 23 in the Champion Bumper, 7th of 14 in the Supreme, 1st of 25 in the Coral Cup, and 2nd of 15 in last year's Stayers' Hurdle. He's been predictably outpaced over two miles this season, as he was in those early Festival skirmishes, but upped in trip he looks sure to be competitive again and is a far more reliable each way proposition than 'the machine'.

This preview presumes Apple's Jade goes to the Champion (or the Mares') Hurdle rather than here, though she'd obviously be a massive player with her seven pound allowance if she did re-route in this direction (9/2 NRNB is a very snide wager if you're that way inclined - most likely money back but you'll have at least two points on the market if she did run).

Of those likely to line up, Black Op was a good second to Samcro in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle in the mud last year; but he was no match for Paisley Park last time and his jumping continues to be a cause for concern. Top Notch is a brilliant little horse but far more likely to go Ryanair, and another already put in his place by the Park.

If it came up wet and turned into a war, Kilbricken Storm is the sort which could pick up pieces. That is what happened in his Albert Bartlett last year and, though the abortive chase campaign is not ideal, 'potato race' winners have a good record in the Stayers' - see for example Penhill last year.

After that, we're in wise guy territory for a race which has not historically played to wise guys. Bacardys has more F's to his name than a Scrabble bag but he wasn't out of last year's race when coming down at the last and a more truly run affair than that one could see a prominent showing, though he may be bigger than the current 16/1 on the day.

It really would be a shock if anything else was good enough.

Stayers' Hurdle 2019 Tips

It may be unoriginal, but in a race full of if's and but's, the case for PAISLEY PARK is overwhelming. He's unbeaten this season, he's won the major trials, he's proven at the track and over the trip, he's beaten many of his likely rivals by wide margins, and he may very well still be progressive. I'd certainly be happy that, barring mishap, there is nothing in Britain that will beat him. He's a short price at 7/4 and that lacks sex appeal, but he's a very likely winner.

Of the Irish, despite his former class it is hard to overlook Faugheen's age, a barrier which proved beyond horses of similar 'back class' at a similar vintage. A strong gallop would also count against him.

Supasundae by contrast relished the stronger pace in the Coral Cup and, while this is clearly a different level of opposition, he was able to operate off the steady fractions in last year's race. With ground versatility and an uninterrupted preparation further positives, he looks the each way bet in the race.

For those who like more exotic - which is to say longer priced and less likely - wagers, Bacardys offers more appeal than many. He has class and Festival form: 3rd in the 2016 Champion Bumper, hampered in the 2017 Neptune, staying on from an impossible position when falling at the last in the 2018 Stayers'. He also has obvious jumping issues which must be factored into your wager. Maybe a bookie will be offering a money back concession on those that tumble; that would be well worth taking a couple of points shorter about in my view. And, in any case, I think he's a day of race play as he's likely to be a little longer than 16/1 unless the wise guys hitch their smartypants cart to his chance.

 

2019 Stayers' Hurdle Selection: Paisley Park at 7/4 NRNB Betfair Sports

Best each way: Supasundae 8/1 Hills (all in, run or not) or 7/1 Betfair Sports, PP, blacktype, Boyles NRNB

Bigger priced alternative: Bacardys e/w at 16/1 NRNB BOG 1/4 1-2-3 bet365 (though he may be available at bigger on the morning of the race)

Cheltenham Festival: Avoiding the Bad Bets

This article was originally written ahead of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, and has been updated prior to the 2019 Cheltenham Festival.

The Cheltenham Festival is almost upon us and soon we'll be faced with the unenviable - though highly enjoyable - task of trying to find winners in 28 deeply competitive races. Many sensible players will focus on a subset of the full four-day card but, regardless of your plan of attack, there are some rules of thumb worth keeping in mind.

I've broken the races down into four categories: open Grade 1's, novice Grade 1's (excluding the Bumper and Triumph Hurdle), handicap hurdles (excluding the Fred Winter), and handicap chases. The following races, in addition to the trio mentioned above, are also excluded: NH Chase, Mares' Novice Hurdle, Cross Country Chase, and the Foxhunters' Chase.

That leaves 21 races spread across four groups upon which to focus. For each I was looking for negative angles: in so doing, I'm happy to forego a small percentage of winners if it means there is a far more workable residue of runners who comprise most victors and, crucially, a value edge.

The sample covers the last eleven Festivals, going back to 2008, with commentary on the updated figures and performance at the 2018 Festival appended.

Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1's

The open Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival are the Champion Hurdle, Mares' Hurdle, Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase, Stayers' Hurdle, and the Gold Cup: six in total. Across the ten years to 2017, that equated to 53 winners (Mares' Hurdle upgraded during the sample window) and 158 placed horses, from 635 runners. To that we add six winners and 17 placed horses from 2018.

Headgear

Those wearing no headgear won 50 of the 53 open Grade 1's in the last decade, from 521 runners. That's 94% of the winners from 82% of the fields.

Just one of the 94 runners sporting blinkers or cheekpieces won - Our Vic in the 2008 Ryanair - and such horses' place strikerate is poor, too.

Be wary of horses wearing headgear, especially blinkers or cheekpieces, in Open Grade 1's at the Festival.

2018 Festival Update: Native River won the Gold Cup wearing cheek pieces, with just one of the other twelve headgear-accoutred runners making the frame. So that's 55 of 59 open Grade 1's now: 93% of the winners from 82% of the runners.

Those wearing headgear can win (QED) but are 4/127 (3.15% SR) with an A/E of just 0.46.

Age

Horses aged five to nine won 49 of the 53 open Cheltenham Festival Grade 1's in the last decade. The other four were aged ten. From 45 runners, 11+ year-olds have failed to win. These include such sentimental veterans as Cue Card, Big Buck's and Kauto Star, all of whom were sent off at 9/2 or shorter since 2012.

Avoid backing horses aged in double digits in Festival Open Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: Two more 11+ year-olds ran in last year's Festival, including the wonderful Cue Card. Wonderful he may be but, sent off at 9/2 and pulled up, he was another mug punt for many. Worse than that, though, was the ten-year-old Un De Sceaux, who was turned over at 8/11. He was one of six ten-year-olds beaten last year.

Horses aged ten-plus are now 4/112 since 2008 (3.57% SR), A/E 0.45.

[As an aside, the four winning ten-year-olds did so in the Champion Chase (two) and Ryanair Chase (two).]

Starting Price

None of the 238 horses sent off at 25/1 or bigger managed to win an open Grade 1 at the last ten CheltFests. Moreover, only three priced bigger than 14/1 scored, from 335 to face the starter, with this group losing 274 points at SP. Meanwhile, those priced at 14/1 or shorter won 50 races from 300 starters, and lost just two points at SP. That converted to a BSP profit of 51.75 points.

Ignore horses priced at 16/1 or bigger in Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: Another blank for 16/1+ horses, who went 0/31 in the Grade 1 open races. Of the four who placed, only one was second - Midnight Tour in a lop-sided Mares' Hurdle - with the other three good enough for no better than third.

Overall, then, this group is now 3/366 (0.82% SR) with a loss at SP of 305 points (-83.33% !) and an A/E of just 0.28

Trainers

Paul Nicholls is still the winning-most Open Grade 1 trainer in the past decade, with ten such victories to his name. Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins each have nine, and the next best of Jonjo O'Neill, with four.

But... the denizen of Ditcheat has led just one beast - Dodging Bullets in 2015 - into the winner's enclosure since 2012, with none of his eight such runners at the last two Festivals reaching the first four. Notwithstanding that all bar one of that octet was sent off a double-figure price, he's a trainer about which to be apprehensive in this context.

Philip Hobbs is 0 from 17 in this type of race in the review period, and has only had one horse placed. That was Fair Along, third in the 2008 Champion Chase, and Hobbs tends to fare better at Aintree, though he's had a wretched season blighted - one suspects - by a touch of the virus.

Noel Meade has an infamous record at the Festival and, while he's 0 from 13 in this section of races, his Road To Riches was third in both the 2015 Gold Cup and the 2016 Ryanair Chase.

Nevertheless, Messrs. Hobbs and Meade are 0 from 30, three places, which is hard to overlook. Nicholls' 1 from 30 record since 2013 is equally difficult to excuse.

Tread carefully around Cheltenham open Grade 1 runners trained by Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and Noel Meade.

2018 Festival Update: Both Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have usurped Nicholls at the top of the pile, each having now secured 11 such wins since 2008. Last year, Messrs. Nicholls, Hobbs and Meade went 0/4 (three Nicholls, one Meade) though two of them ran fairly well in fourth. Caution remains the watch word.

Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1 Micro System

Pulling all of these negative stats together makes for a nice little micro system. Specifically:

- No horses wearing blinkers or cheekpieces
- No horses trained by Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs or Noel Meade
- No horses priced at 16/1+
- No horses aged 10+

That would have netted 36 winners from 180 runners (20% strike rate, 69% race win strike rate) and a level stakes profit of 46.48 points at Starting Price. That bloats to +69.95 at BSP. Moreover, the approach was profitable in eight of the ten years, exceptions being 2016 and 2009.

2018 Festival Update: The above 'dodge the negatives' angle would have netted you five of the six open G1 winners (excluding the cheek pieced Native River) from just 25 bets. It would have been enough to make you a profit of 6.17 points at SP or a very tidy 13.82 points at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: The mini system had a fine week with wins for Al Boum Photo, Paisley Park and Altior in the big four races, as well as Roksana in the Mares' Hurdle. That was worth a profit of 5.74 points at SP and 6.95 at BSPEspoir d'Allen was 16/1 and therefore just outside the range.

**

Cheltenham Festival Novice Grade 1's (excl. Bumper & Triumph Hurdle)

The novice Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival are the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Arkle Chase, Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle, RSA Chase, JLT Novices' Chase, and Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle: six in all. Across the ten years, that equates to 54 winners (JLT upgraded during the sample window) and 159 placed horses, from 723 runners. To that we add six winners and 17 placed horses, from 76 runners, in 2018.

The Bumper is excluded because it has no obstacles, and the Triumph Hurdle because it is for four-year-olds only.

Here are the negatives...

Headgear

Those wearing no headgear still account for the vast majority of wins - 57 of 60 from 2008 to 2018 - but perform little better than expected, 95% of the wins coming from 93% of the runners.

Age

Again, little of note here except that those novices aged nine or more running in Grade 1 novice races at the Festival have done poorly. They are 0 from 22, though then nine-year-old Whisper nearly benefited from Might Bite's errant course up the hill last year in the RSA Chase. It is worth noting that nine of those 22 were priced at 7/1 or shorter.

Avoid novices aged nine and up in the novice Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: No 9yo novices ran at the Festival last year.

Starting Price

There is the occasional shock result in Cheltenham Festival novice Grade 1's. But four, out of 54, is not a percentage on which to hang one's wagering hat. Interestingly, perhaps - or maybe just coincidence - two of the four winners at bigger than 16/1 in the last decade came in the Albert Bartlett. It does seem a race where all of the preceding trials have been run on different ground and/or under very different pace scenarios.

Even allowing a little latitude in the 'potato race', the four rags came from a total population of 336 horses sent off greater than 16/1. They were 'good' for a loss of 208 points at SP.

Naturally, then, the other 50 winners came from horses priced at 16/1 or shorter, the 381 such runners losing just 31 points at SP, and breaking even at BSP.

Be wary of horses sent off a bigger price than 16/1 in novice Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival. (With the exception of the Albert Bartlett)

2018 Festival Update: I think I got some sums wrong in the original above. The 16/1+ brigade were 6/379 (1.58% SR, -217, A/E 0.53) going into last year's Fez. Those priced at 16/1 or bigger were 1/42 at last year's Cheltenham Festival, and it was again the Albert Bartlett that provided the shock, with 33/1 Kilbricken Storm prevailing.

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And that's now four of seven winning G1 novice rags since 2008 scoring in the spud race, so I'd be even more apprehensive around that event. Indeed, I might even be tempted to actively target outsiders therein. (Those priced 16/1 to 33/1 in the Albert Bartlett are 4/65, 12 places, +54 SP and +104 at BSP since 2008!)

The overall figures now stand at 7/421 (1.66% SR, A/E 0.56) since 2008. Ignoring the Albert Bartlett, horses priced 16/1+ in novice Grade 1's are now 3/293 (1.02% SR, -216 at SP) since 2008.

Official Rating

Despite being novices, most horses running in the Festival novice races have an official rating. The 39 in the last decade which didn't were all unplaced bar one. Indeed, horses rated 140 or below, including those without a rating, are a combined seven from 308 for a loss at SP of 185 points.

Those rated higher than 140 won 47 races and lost a relatively small 54 points at SP and 2.75 points at BSP.

Avoid horses rated 140 or below.

2018 Festival Update: Those unrated added another three duck eggs to their collective card, though all of the trio were 20/1+. Meanwhile, those unrated or rated 140 or less went 24 spins without so much as a place at last year's Festival. Overall since 2008, then, they're now 7/332 (2.11% SR, A/E 0.58). There have only been three such winners since 2010, and none since 2016.

Trainers

Willie Mullins is the dominant player in this sphere over the last decade, his fifteen winners almost double that of the next man (Nicky Henderson has eight). No other trainer has more than two novice G1 wins in the past decade, excluding as we are the Bumper and Triumph Hurdle.

Paul Nicholls is again a man to treat with caution: his one winner, Al Ferof, from 43 starters came in 2011. In PFN's defence, he only had one runner last year, and just two in 2016.

Other handlers to be given a wide berth may include Colin Tizzard (0 from 15, 2 places), Warren Greatrex and Charlie Longsdon (both 0 from 9, no places), and Venetia Williams (0 from 8, no places).

Keep in mind that Paul Nicholls does not have the firepower he once did in this category (and indeed many others).

2018 Festival Update: Nicholls ran two novices in this context last year, Modus (8th of 9 at 12/1) and Black Corton (5th of 10, 5/1).

 

Cheltenham Festival Novice Grade 1 Micro System

Again, we can fashion something of a micro system by dodging these negative angles, thus:

- No horses aged nine-plus
- No horses rated 140 or lower, or unrated
- No horses sent off greater than 16/1
- No horses trained by Paul Nicholls

44 of the 54 winners in the sample came from avoiding these negatives, from just 38.5% of the runners. They were collectively worth a profit of 7.57 points at SP, and a slightly more worthwhile 31.15 points at BSP.

2018 Festival Update: If you'd followed this angle last year, you'd have found five of the six winners, 14 places (exception, Kilbricken Storm - see above) from 46 bets. That would have yielded a profit of +9 at SP and +17.41 at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: Not such good news here, as loads of runners and some short odds winners meant the angle lost 16 points at SP and 7.28 points at BSP.

**

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Hurdles (excluding Fred Winter)

Let us now take a look at the handicap races, beginning with the handicap hurdles but excluding the four-year-olds-only Fred Winter (which will be won this year by geegeez.co.uk syndicate horse, Oxford Blu... we wish!!)

Fred Winter aside, there are four handicap hurdles at the Festival: the Coral Cup, Pertemps Final, County and Martin Pipe. The last named was introduced in 2009, meaning we have a sample size of 39 races with which to work. Those races were contested by 964 runners.

Gender

The fairer sex have recorded just one placed effort from 27 starters in the ten year review period. That 3.7% place strike rate (and 0% win rate) compares with a 16.4% place rate for the boys.

It may be safe to exclude fillies and mares in all age Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdles. (Incidentally, fillies have an excellent record in the Fred Winter).

2018 Festival Update: Fillies and mares were 0/9 (1 place) last year. Overall since 2008, that now reads 0/36, 2 places.

Headgear

Cheekpieces are again a negative. This time, 84 horses have worn them without a win, and just six places. Conversely, 11 of the 84 blinkered horses (one also wearing a hood) made the frame, and four won. Two of the 45 hood wearers also won, another eight placing; while the visor went 0 from 21, no places.

Cheekpieces or visors appear to have no positive impact on Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdlers. (This is in line with overall Cheltenham Festival statistics, where visor use has a 2.86% win rate in the last decade, compared with cheekpieces 3.15%, hood 4.92%, blinkers 5.57% and no headgear 5.96%)

2018 Festival Update: Nine more cheek pieced losers last year, and two more visored losers. Blinkered runners were 1/7 last year.

Age

Handicap hurdling at the Festival is a young man's game. Of the 964 runners in such races in the past ten years, 842 (87%) were aged five to eight (ignoring the Fred Winter). They won all bar two of the races (95%), and claimed 92% of the places.

But it is worth further squinting at the data, because it relates that those aged five or six notched 27 of the 39 wins (69%) from just 49% of the runners. Those victories were worth 94 points profit at BSP.

Chuck out horses aged nine and above, and be unforgiving with those aged seven and eight.

2018 Festival Update: All four handicap hurdle winners in this context last year were aged five to seven, with twelve 8yo's beaten, and eleven 9yo+ horses also seen off.

Starting Price

506 of the 964 starters in all-age Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdles since 2008 have been sent off at greater than 20/1. Five have won, at a collective loss of 343 points.

It follows then that the other 34 victors were priced at 20/1 or shorter, of which there were 458 runners. Remarkably, backing all such runners returned an SP profit of 35 points. That mushroomed to 127.5 points at BSP.

Only five of the 102 horses sent off shorter than 9/1 prevailed, for a 66 point loss at SP (60 points at BSP).

Make 20/1 your cutoff in all-age handicap hurdles, and beware the shortie.

2018 Festival Update: There was a 33/1 winner last year (Mohaayed in the County Hurdle), but the other three were 20/1 or shorter. Even allowing for the County winner, those priced at bigger than 20/1 were loss-making at SP (though an enormous BSP of 70 ensured a profit for intrepid exchange punters). Overall, the 22/1+ brigade are now 6/554 since 2008 in handicap hurdles at the Fez (Fred W aside).

Trainers

Willie Mullins has a fantastic record in open handicap hurdles at the Fez, scoring seven times from just 60 starters in the past decade. He's also added another ten placed horses for a brilliant 28% place strike rate. Gordon Elliott has performed even better in place terms, hitting the frame with twelve of his 34 such runners (35%). He also has a win and two places in the Fred Winter, from 11 starters.

Paul Nicholls has a very good record in handicap hurdles, too, in contrast to his Grade 1 performance in recent seasons. But the likes of Evan Williams and Charlie Longsdon (0 from 31, 0 places, between them), Noel Meade and Dr Richard Newland (0 from 27, 3 places, collectively) are probably best passed up.

Approach Messrs. Evan Williams, Longsdon, Meade and Newland with caution.

2018 Festival Update: Only the 40/1 shot Prime Venture represented this angle last year; he ran well enough in 8th of 23 in the Pertemps Final.

 

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Hurdle Micro System

Throwing all of the negatives into a mixer gives the following:

- No female horses
- No horses wearing cheekpieces or a visor
- No horses aged nine or above
- No horses sent off at greater than 20/1
- No horses trained by Evan Williams, Charlie Longsdon, Noel Meade or Dr Richard Newland

Applying those negative filters would have left 375 qualifiers. They collectively won 32 of the 39 qualifying races, for a profit of 80 points at SP, and a tasty 165 points at BSP.

2018 Festival Update: Even missing out on the County Hurdle last year, meaning there were only three winners to get, this angle made a profit at SP. In fact, it nailed three winners from 36 runners for +4 at SP and +18.07 at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: More losses on this angle with well backed winners spoiling the party. Still, figures of -13 at SP and -5.61 at BSP were not terminal.

**

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Chases

That leaves us with the handicap chases: Festival Handicap Chase, Novices' Handicap Chase, the Festival Plate, the Kim Muir, and the Grand Annual. With all five races having been run throughout the review period, that gives us fifty races to go at. (I've excluded the Cross Country, which has been run as a handicap but is currently framed as a conditions race).

A whopping 1,086 runners have contested these handicap chases.

Gender

As with the handicap hurdles, it's been hard work for the girls. Only 19 have shown up but, while they have failed to win, they have recorded an impressive five placed efforts (26.32% place rate vs 18.18% for the boys).

Nothing especially of note.

2018 Festival Update: Just one unplaced female last year.

Headgear

Bizarrely given what we've seen hitherto, the fitting of any kind of headgear has outperformed the large 'no headgear' group in terms of win percentage. Cheekpieces, up until now shunned as a universal negative, have been worn by no fewer than seven of the fifty winners, at a rate of 5.26%. Blinkers have been worn by nine handicap chase winners, a 7.5% clip; and the visor and the hood were responsible for a win apiece from 22 and 23 runners respectively. Crikey!

Those unaccessorized won 32 handicap chases from 786 runners (4.07%, the lowest in the sample).

I'll stop short of saying that no headgear is a negative (!), but suffice it to say that the sporting of any kind of 'go faster' kit has not been a portent of failure.

2018 Festival Update: A blinkered runner, Missed Approach, again scored last year and, while cheek pieces went 0/14, four of them made the frame. Allied to Native River's Gold Cup win, I'm warming to the idea of cheekies on a chaser.

Age

Although most winners were clustered in the six to nine years bracket, neither youth nor experience has been a killer blow in handicap chases. Winners have emerged from across the spectrum, with the winning-most ages from a number of victories perspective being the losing-most from a betting perspective.

2018 Festival Update: Last year was non-standard in that all five handicap chase winners were aged six to eight. You'd have still lost money even focusing on that age bracket.

Starting Price

Again we see winners up and down the odds boards, with the sweet (but highly unpredictable and potentially coincidental) spot being north of 25/1 and south of 80/1. Those unconsidered athletes have bagged nine of the 50 races for a profit of 23 points at SP and 331 points at BSP (thanks almost entirely to one enormous return).

Just too unpredictable to work with.

2018 Festival Update: Incredibly, all five handicap chase winners last year were priced at single figure SP's. That's probably never happened before and will probably never happen again!

Trainers

David Pipe has a terrific 8 from 75 record in the last decade in Festival handicap chases, for a small SP profit. On the flip side, Nicky Henderson's two winners have come from 83 runners (-45 at SP); Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Philip Hobbs are an aggregate of five from 153 (-68 at SP); and poor Charlie Longsdon is 0 from 23 (two places, -23 at SP) to make the cold list once more.

Steer clear of the volume boys: Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon.

2018 Festival Update: A good strategy this, as between them they saddled 30 runners in handicap chases, with just 15/2 Le Prezien in the final race of last year's Festival doing the business. Six of the 30 hit the frame.

 

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Chase Micro System

Very little to go at here. We have some negative trainers, and we could try ignoring those:

- No horses trained by Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon

That gives a fat 827 qualifying runners for a loss of 104 points at SP. A bumper profit at BSP was secured courtesy of Mister McGoldrick's 66/1 victory which returned 310 on the exchange!

Perhaps, just for kicks, we could add a long-odds SP range:

- No horses trained by Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon
- No horses shorter than 28/1

We now only have eight winners, from 291 runners, but an SP profit of 40 points. At BSP, for the reason highlighted above, it becomes a juicy 341 points.

But we all know that there's nothing really of use in this section. The handicap chases are a crap shoot and, in negative elimination factor terms, should be avoided at all costs.

2018 Festival Update: The comment directly above was spot on. Just for the record the long-odds angle suggestion went 0/18 at last year's Cheltenham Festival.

2019 Festival Update: Surely nobody in their right mind would have followed this approach. But, if there was a contrarian nuts enough to have at it, he or she would have comfortably recouped last year's losses thanks to 66/1 winner, Croco Bay. He paid 180 at Betfair SP. That meant a profit of 32 points at starting price, and a monstrous one hit wonder return of 146 points at Betfair SP.

**

Summary

Ignoring the highly unpredictable handicap chase segment, there are some consistent negative factors worth keeping in mind throughout Cheltenham Festival week.

Firstly, don't get too gung ho by ploughing into the longshots. Unless you fancy one to shorten to 20/1 or less, there is a strong likelihood you've done your money.

Secondly, favour unexposed youth over established age/experience.

Thirdly, cheekpieces have been more about futility than utility outside of handicap chases.

Fourthly, beware Paul Nicholls outside of handicap hurdles, and Charlie Longsdon and Noel Meade universally.

The micro-systems above will provide plenty of action for those who like a mechanical approach. Better yet, they may assist in whittling fields to more manageable numbers with a view to poring over the form on the remaining runners.

However you choose to use this information - indeed, whether you choose to use it or not - enjoy the Fez. There's nothing quite like it!

2018 Festival Update: Nothing to add to the above, which pretty much nailed it at last year's show and may again provide valuable guidance this time around...

Good luck!

Matt

My Cheltenham Ante Post Portfolio 2019

We're now less than three weeks away from the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, and it is time to start ramping up the Fez-related content here on geegeez.co.uk.

To kick things off, allow me to share my ante post portfolio as it stands right now. It's a little sparser than has been the case in recent years, and perhaps I'm a little less confident about the plays than in recent history, too: truth is, life (family, geegeez, HBF, syndicate horses) keeps getting in the way. And, on balance, I like that, so no dramas or complaints from my side.

I've included staking as well as selections so, as always, take that in the context that some will bet more, some will bet less, and that bet size is not really the point: we all operate in our zone and this just happens to be mine. Make sense? Good, let's crack on.

Tuesday

Arkle

Cilaos Emery £20 e/w 13.08/1 William Hill

A 'boosted' price from Hills, up from 12/1, hence the quirky number. This Willie Mullins inmate was hugely impressive in brushing aside subsequent facile scorer Duc Des Genievres amongst others on his first start for more than a year. The third and fourth have won since, and the second replicated that effort on his next start, giving the form a solid look. Fifth in the 2017 Supreme was followed by a win in the G1 Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle, and a hurdle rating in the 150's puts him right in the mix for the Arkle.

Alas, he picked up a knock schooling at Navan the other day, and is now an injury doubt for Cheltenham. In any case, a single race over fences is probably sub-optimal. Current top price 'all in run or not' - 10/1

Novices' Handicap Chase

Tower Bridge £25 e/w 20/1 NRNB bet365

I've no idea really why I have an ante post bet in a handicap, still less the novices' handicap chase, but I have. And it looks over-staked to boot. At least the non-runner no bet concession offers me the consolation of a run or a refund.

In fairness, this lad, who was a Grade 1 scorer at the Dublin Festival this time last year before running a close fifth in the Albert Bartlett, ran a cracking trial when never really put into the race behind Duc Des Genievres last time. It looks as though he'll contest a handicap rather than a Graded chase at Cheltenham, though perhaps the Kim Muir's extended trip will be the slot he lands in. If that's the case, it's money back and no harm done; he should get competitive in whichever handicap he contests. Current top price NRNB - 20/1

Wednesday

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

Acey Milan £20 e/w 50/1 Unibet

A bit of a daft loyalty bet, I suppose. He has the class to contest this on his form from last year, where he was the best British bumper horse of the season. But injuries and illness this year mean he's not had a chance to show his true ability. A welcome win last time over two miles at Plumpton was not in the style of a horse harbouring Festival aspirations, but he rallied well from the turn in there and will be very hard to beat off an opening mark of just 127 when upped in trip. But that won't be at the Festival, sadly. No NRNB here so these quids look spent. Current top price - not quoted

RSA Chase

Santini £200 win 9/2 bet365

That's more like it. Or it was until equine flu and vaccinations got in the way of his intended prep in the Reynoldstown at Ascot. Prior to that little episode, I was feeling very smug with the inflated price taken about a horse whose chance was, to my eye at least, significantly enhanced by an outpaced-but-staying-on-best-of-all three length third in the Feltham on Boxing Day. The winner of that race has notoriously never won the RSA, though a number of beaten horses - including former Seven Barrows resident and Gold Cup winner, Bobs Worth - have turned defeat there into RSA victory.

Your first 30 days for just £1

The much stiffer test at Cheltenham will be right up Santini's street and I think he has a very good chance. Well, I did until he missed his prep. He'll presumably have a spin round Kempton at the weekend, but it's not the same thing, is it? Current top price - 3/1

 

Thursday

JLT Novices' Chase

Kalashnikov £25 win 16/1 Skybet

A top novice hurdler on wet ground last year, I took a bit of a punt on this fellow for the intermediate novice chase at the Fez this time around. He's not looked a natural so far, but that could conceivably be down to being out of his comfort zone at the speed the best horses race over two miles. Moreover, I'd certainly forgive his Sandown effort where the ground was filthy tacky and he didn't look to jump out of it at all.

That's a lot of excuses for a horse who probably wants a wet March and who probably won't get it; and who will probably go the short route even though he's demonstrated he likely doesn't have the pace for it. In my view, this is the right race for him but, even then, whether he's good enough is another matter entirely. Current top price - 18/1

Winter Escape £50 e/w 12/1 NRNB Skybet / £10 win 20/1 NRNB Paddy Power

I really liked this fellow when he won a deep Grade 3 at Punchestown last month, but he was sub-par at Leopardstown earlier this month. It turned out he broke a blood vessel there, which probably means he's not going to the Festival. I'd bet him NRNB on the basis that a good run at Leopardstown would book his ticket while a poor one would probably rule him out, and that looks a rare moment of prudence in a fairly trigger-happy portfolio overall.

 

Friday

Triumph Hurdle

Carlo Biraghi £25 e/w 16/1 NRNB bet365

I wanted to back Fakir after his Chelto romp, but didn't. Good job as talk is that he's Supreme-bound. I was tempted by Sir Erec but not by the top price of 6/4. And so I landed on this wildly impressive 22-runner maiden hurdle winner with more than a touch of class as an each way alternative. In truth, I didn't think he could beat a concert pitch Sir Erec, so I'm kind of happy (with apologies to connections of course) that he has been held up in his preparations and may now be saved for the flat. Money back, no damage done. Thank the Lord for run or refund! Current top price - not quoted.

Gold Cup

Native River £200 e/w 9/2 NRNB bet365

I placed this bet on the morning of the Galmoy Hurdle, where I thought Presenting Percy might be undercooked or unimpressive. In fact, he was probably both, but that didn't stop Pat Kelly's not-jumped-a-fence-in-public-this-campaign second season chaser from shortening up for the Blue Riband. Meanwhile, Colin Tizzard's reigning champ has eased out to 6/1 in a place (all in, run or not).

He had a hard race in the Gold Cup last year, there's little doubt about that. But he's the wrong price here in a race that lacks the depth the market currently suggests, in my view at least. I'll expound upon that in a full preview next week but, for now, know that Kempton ain't Native's track - he's been outpaced on both visits there - and know that running Bristol De Mai to four lengths around Haydock probably constitutes a rating of about 210 in the microcosm of that inexplicably idiosyncratic track.

Native River has had a quiet campaign geared towards this race, and I think he's a very solid each way play indeed, as evidenced by comfortably my biggest ante post stab of the meeting. I just wish I had a bigger price about him! Current top price - 11/2 NRNB

Anibale Fly £50 e/w 33/1 Black Type

Another over-staked wager, this should have been £25 e/w. But I really like this horse. I thought he was a tad conservatively ridden last year when third in the Gold Cup, though it's possible - probable, perhaps - that he was outpaced and ran on. He ran a taking prep behind Monalee over a mile-too-short two and a half mile trip in the Red Mills Chase and has only eight lengths to find with Native River on last year's Gold Cup form.

The worry is that the GC is a prep for the GN - Grand National - but that's bonkers if you have a horse potentially good enough to win the former. There's something of Synchronised, JP McManus's 2012 Gold Cup winner, about Anibale Fly: obviously the green and gold livery but also the doughty staying nature of their run styles. Synchronised was somewhat Jim Furyk in his jumping style whereas Anibale Fly is a tad more 'trad' with his athleticism, and in a race full of if's and but's he comes to the party dressed as himself and ready to roll. He's still a fair price, I think. Current top price - 25/1 NRNB

Foxhunters' Chase

Hazel Hill £8 win 25/1 Paddy Power / 80p win 25/1 Betfair / £9.70 e/w 12/1 bet365

A weird race fittingly couched in my portfolio with some weirdly staked bets. 25/1 was a rick, plain and simple, after Hazel Hill demolished a good class field of hunters at Warwick last month, and I got all I could, which wasn't very much at all as you can see. He'd previously won his two other hunter chases by a similarly wide margin and, while he may not have the class of some of the ex-Rules horses, he is a beast at the top of his game.

If I'm in desperate need of a draw by this point on Friday - I'll be fairly well oiled by then - perhaps this chap will get back 350-odd notes. But, in truth, it's a pig in a poke of a pot where you need to be lucky as much as good. Current top price - 7/1 NRNB

*

That's the story so far. For those who prefer spreadsheets, feast your eyes on the tale of the tape / tale of woe* (*delete on 16th March as applicable) below. There will be many more wagers to strike, and we'll start the big race previews next week: they're overdue! [Click on the image to view a bigger version]

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2018: Day Four Preview, Tips

And so to Gold Cup day, the final day of four at the Cheltenham Festival. Always a very difficult card, if you come up dry in the Triumph Hurdle and/or the big race itself, you'll be lucky to get out in front. We start with one of the more reliable (relatively) wagering conveyances of the day, the...

1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 179yds)

Triumph Hurdle Preview

A race fairly high on quality if a little short on numbers with just nine going to post. They're headed by the unbeaten-in-four Apple's Shakira. All three of her wins since importing from France have come at Cheltenham, and all three of them have come on soft ground, most recently in the Grade 2 Triumph Hurdle Trial in January. She's obviously well suited to conditions, gets the seven pounds mares' allowance, should be suited by the run of the race and will be tough to beat.

But Apple's is not the highest rated in the field. That honour was claimed by Redicean, who improved his own unbeaten hurdles record to three when demolishing a shallow-looking line up in the Grade 2 Adonis Hurdle at Kempton last time. His three wins have all come at Kempton and, while that won't stop him adding Triumph glory, he is unproven on this very different circuit. He's rated inferior to Apple's Shakira after accounting for the sex allowance, and is a horse I'm happy to take on.

I respect the Irish one-two from the Spring Hurdle, Mr Adjudicator and Farclas. The former received a more patient ride to wear down the latter there, that looking the best piece of form in Ireland. There should again be little between them, though there is a joker in the Irish pack in the shape of Stormy Ireland.

A mare, she too will receive seven pounds from the boys. That obviously won't harm her cause but it is quite difficult to assess the merit of her win at Fairyhouse. There she pulled 58 (fifty-eight!) lengths clear of a moderate field and, so the clock lads tell me, in a very good time. She's not expected to get an easy time of it on the front, however, and that may compromise her ability to replicate the Fairyhouse effort. I can't back her at the price but nor can I discount the possibility that she's top class.

Saldier is another once-raced-in-Ireland Willie Mullins runner and, as the saying goes, if you've got four for the race you probably haven't got one. I'm not sure that's true, but this fellow is impossible to quantify and will likely be sussed out by the class elevation. I don't hold out much hope for the rest either.

Triumph Hurdle Pace Map

Triumph Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

Triumph Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

Triumph Hurdle Tips

This looks a good race for Apple's Shakira. She's tough and genuine and handles conditions well. I don't personally think she got the credit she deserved for her last day win: she was caught out of her ground and had a fair bit to do to get on terms with Look My Way; that she managed to pull eight lengths clear by the line spoke well of her. I think she'll come on for that run as well, and she's a good chance at a shortish price.

I'm not with Redicean or Stormy Ireland but fear the first two home from the Spring Hurdle, Mr Adjudicator and Farclas.

Best win bet: Apple's Shakira (short enough at 2/1 but playable if any firms go 5/2 in the morning)

Best each way bet: your choice of Mr Adjudicator and Farclas

**

2.10 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 179yds)

County Hurdle Preview

Impossible race. Simply impossible. Using the avoiding bad bets approach, I'm looking for a five- or six-year-old towards the top of the market (20/1 or shorter). That actually doesn't help an awful lot, unfortunately. The pace map tells us that a hold up horse might be the best approach, which brings in last year's Fred Winter winner, Flying Tiger. He's been very well backed and I'm really annoyed with myself for not getting on at the better prices having spotted his County chance back in December. He's just about favourite now, and the booking of Noel Fehily looks inspired for a horse that will need to thread a passage from far back to grab this pot.

The other I'll guess with is Whiskey Sour. Willie Mullins' five-year-old actually won a Grade 1 two starts back and, while not necessarily taking that win entirely at face value (Mengli Khan, strong favourite that day, ran out), it remains good form. He's since been a twelve length fourth to Samcro in another Grade 1 and a mark of 141 is not insurmountable.

Two dozen more for you to choose from, including the interesting chase switcher, Brelade.

County Hurdle Pace Map

County Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

County Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

County Hurdle Tips

Ten deep to get through the placepot for me. Flying Tiger is short enough in the context of the race but certainly playable each way if you can get six places.

Best each way bet: Flying Tiger 14/1 (try to get extra places)

**

2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 7f 213yds)

Albert Bartlett Preview

After the County, this Grade 1 may look like a safe haven to the uninitiated; but recently it's been a minefield for punters with the last four winners returning 16/1, 11/1, 14/1 and, gulp, 33/1. Tread carefully is the suggestion.

Nicky Henderson has a strong hand with the first two in the market. Santini is the main man, unbeaten in a point and a couple of novice hurdles. He was impressive last time in wearing down Black Op - that one running Samcro close on Wednesday - and is the horse most likely to make up into a Gold Cup type. But he's inexperienced for a race of this nature and is no more than 'saver' material in my mind. In spite of that, I'd quite like to see him win well to support that 'possible future superstar' hunch.

The other Hendo at the head of the market is Chef Des Obeaux, staying on but no match for Santini when they met in December but subsequently thrice victorious. He will handle the ground, will stay, and has more match practice than his stablemate. The extra distance here, and the likely strong gallop, could get him closer to Santini this time around.

One I'm looking forward to seeing over this longer trip is OK Corral. Another from the Seven Barrows barn - he has four in the race, Mr Whipped completing the set - this green-and-golder was impressive when upped to two and a half at Kempton last time. He has a bit to find on the book but, as an eight year old against younger, is expected to relish the stamina test; he's a backable price.

The Irish challenge is headed by 64 length last day winner, Chris's Dream. As always with wide margin heavy ground successes it is very hard to gauge the level of that run. He'd previously won by less than five lengths in a race working out only okay, and he looks plenty short enough.

And at bigger prices, Dortmund Park is the type to go well in a heat like this. He's won a few and lost a few, and generally been best when the test has been severe. Davy Russell is a top man for the piloting role and he'll surely outrun 25/1 odds.

Albert Bartlett Pace Map

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

Albert Bartlett Tips

A hard race to weigh up. Santini is the right favourite and could be very good. But he's short enough for one so inexperienced. I think his stablemates Chef Des Obeaux and, especially at the prices, OK Corral might give him a race; and Dortmund Park looks over-priced.

Best value each way bet: OK Corral (12/1 Hills, Paddy)

Possible big priced each way poke: Dortmund Park (25/1 Betfair, Paddy, Betstars)

Your first 30 days for just £1

**

3.30 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1, 3m 2f 70yds)

Gold Cup Preview

The Blue Riband event of the week, the Gold Cup is an extreme test of class and stamina, the latter perhaps the key attribute required on the rain-softened turf this time around.

Whether that will suit long-term antepost favourite, Might Bite, remains to be seen. He had the speed to demolish his Grade 1 Feltham field last season before demolishing the final fence; and he had the ability to win the RSA Chase a few months later despite wandering across to sign autographs after the last. But this is more than a quarter mile further and it will be a lot softer than it was on either of those occasions.

He did win the King George on soft ground when last seen, but that was an unimpressive one length verdict over Double Shuffle. Further, he was beaten on heavy (career debut, 6/5 fav) in his only other race with dig in the ground. And still there are more concerns: Might Bite likes to lead, but so does Native River. Getting involved in a tussle on the front with suspect stamina and on turf softer than ideal will mean he is an absolute superstar if he wins. Oh yes, he'll also have to not do his 'nutcase' job in the latter part of the race. Not for me, though I do love him.

Native River is now vying for favouritism. There are no doubts about this one's stamina or soft turf aptitude - he won a Welsh National on soft under top weight - and the race looks tailor made for him. But he too has questions to answer: will he 'bounce' after quite a hard race at Newbury on his comeback from a year off? And will he do too much too soon by taking on Might Bite for the lead? He is a reasonable win bet, but the questions I've posed in this para make him no each way good thing.

Jessica Harrington sends over the main Irish hope, Our Duke, and he has his conditions, too. A mudlark who bolted up in the Irish Grand National last term, he took a while to come to hand this season. A brace of poor runs in Grade 1 chases - unplaced favourite on both occasions - were laid to rest when he beat off Presenting Percy on heavy ground last time out. That one was a good winner of the RSA Chase on Wednesday giving the form a rock solid feel. He has his chance, a fact fully reflected in a quote of 6/1.

Killultagh Vic would have won or nearly won the Irish Gold Cup if not taking a heavy fall at the last in Leopardstown last month, and therein lies the major issue with him: he is a very sketchy leaper. That problem has meant each of his last four races have been in different calendar years, the recent spill coming after a win over hurdles in December, which was in turn his first run since January 2016. He has bags of ability, and he might be a bet with Coral's faller insurance, but I can't consider him as the selection with that major frailty sure to come under examination.

Definitly Red is a bit of a forgotten horse. Nominated as the each way bet of the meeting by the official handicapper, Phil Smith, at the recent London Racing Club Cheltenham preview, Brian Ellison's charge was a clear-cut winner of the Cotswold Chase over three miles and a furlong here in January. It was heavy that day, so nothing to fret about re ground or trip. Whether he's quite good enough I'm not sure, but he's a touch over-priced.

The one I really liked this year was Road To Respect. I say 'was' because I think it's got too muddy for his tastes: he's won on soft before, but his best form is on terra firmer (sic). If it does dry out a little, I still think he has a decent chance based on a couple of Grade 1 scores and a Festival win last year.

The winner of the Irish Gold Cup was Edwulf, and this story horse is another which has been somewhat forgotten in the run up to the race this year. Down and almost out after going wrong on the run-in in the National Hunt Chase at the Festival last year, he was more likely to lose his life than not, let alone return to racing at the top level. To then win a Grade 1, as he did that last day, is remarkable. The ground has come right for him again, and he is a touch of value at 16/1 albeit that he'd need to improve a few pounds; as a second season chaser he retains the scope to do just that.

American is three from three on soft ground but was no match for Definitly Red in receipt of four pounds last time. He was staying on at that shorter trip so it not impossible that he could make the first four or five. As a lightly raced runner, he too has a bit more scope than many in the field.

An outsider with a squeak is Anibale Fly, trained by Tony Martin. He wasn't really in the picture in that Irish Gold Cup before taking a heavy fall two out. I was hoping Mark Walsh would ride him but Barry Geraghty has chosen this fellow over Minella Rocco (he didn't have an option on Edwulf). The Fly loves a big field - he's won in herds of 16, 25 and 28 (twice) - and has shown abundant stamina up to the three mile range. He has to show he can see out the extra quarter mile and a bit and will be played fairly late, but he's an interesting 'rag'.

Interesting rag status is also conferred upon Djakadam, in his fourth Gold Cup attempt. 2nd-2nd-4th is his string thus far, so could he do a The Fellow? That French homme was second in both 1991 and 1992, and fourth in 1993 before finally claiming that elusive victory in 1994. While stranger things have happened, just one win from his last eleven starts does not offer too much hope.

The rest probably won't figure.

Gold Cup Pace Map

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2018: Pace Map

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2018: Pace Map

Gold Cup Tips

A wide open Gold Cup, and I'm sure it will be 5/1 the field in the morning. I respect Might Bite but fear the race setup for him; Native River is one I'm happy to let beat me; and I'm not sure about the Irish pair of Our Duke and Killultagh Vic. Of course, any of those could win, but they're not for me. At the prices, I'm happier taking a bit of a chance on Definitly Red, Anibale Fly and perhaps American.

Best value each way bet: Definitly Red 12/1 888sport (1/4 1-2-3)

Bigger priced smaller stakes each possibles: American 25/1 general, Anibale Fly 33/1 Hills

**

4.10 St James's Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase (Class 2, 3m 2f 70yds)

Foxhunter Chase Preview

It now gets very very difficult. This race, run over the same course and distance as the Gold Cup, is for amateurs only, both horses and jockeys. Seven of the last nine winners returned 13/2 or shorter, the other pair being 16/1 and 33/1, and it is in the short grass that I will start and end my search for the winner.

The favourite is Burning Ambition, trained, like six of the last seven winners, in Ireland. He's had just two starts under Rules, winning on debut before running second to Gilgamboa in his prep for this. Just a seven-year-old, he has plenty of scope; indeed, those aged six or seven are five from 40 (12.5% win rate). That's better than twice as good as any other age group. Jamie Codd, the best rider in this peloton, takes the mount and if he gets the luck in transit he'll probably win.

Wonderful Charm is a ten-year-old representing last year's winning trainer, Paul Nicholls. He won at this marathon distance at Musselburgh last time, and was a close second in the race last year. Sam Waley-Cohen takes over from Katie Walsh, who steered that day, the dentist having ridden Wonderful Charm on his last two starts: W-C for WC. He ought again to run his race, and he's far from a bad each way bet with trip, track and ground all fine.

The pretender at the top of the market looks to be Foxrock. He has been whacked on both Festival starts, and seems either not to like travelling or not to like Cheltenham. The effect is the same: no bet.

And just like that we're into the double digit quotes. A couple which may be worth a second glance are Caid Du Berlais and Cousin Pete. The former is a nine-year-old good enough to race in a handicap at last year's Festival off a mark in the 140's. He's won his three points and, though there's a slight reservation about stamina in the ground, he'd be classier than most of these and is 14/1.

At a guesser's price, 40/1, Cousin Pete could go well for a fair way. He's a well bred - Kayf Tara out of an Alderbrook mare - latecomer who was a winner over three miles and a furlong at the April Hunter Chase meeting here. Since then he's run second on soft (three miles) at Market Rasen in a hunter chase which has worked out well (winner and third both won since). The jockey is a bit of an unknown, but if you're prepared to take that chance, you might get a decent run for a pennies play.

Foxhunter Chase Pace Map

Foxhunters' Chase 2018: Pace Map

Foxhunters' Chase 2018: Pace Map

Foxhunter Chase Tips

This appears to be a KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) race, and I like the jolly even if I'm not enormously fond of his price. 7/2 is still all right, mind. It ought to be hard to keep Wonderful Charm out of the frame, so 13/2 there is decent too.

In the prayer mat camp is Cousin Pete, a big priced value loser perhaps.

Best win bet: Burning Ambition 7/2 general

Best each way bet: Wonderful Charm 13/2 general

Hail Mary penny play: Cousin Pete 40/1 Betfair, Paddy, betstars, Victor

**

4.50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (Class 2, 2m 4f 56 yds)

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Preview

Oh my. The route in here simply has to be Gordon Elliott, former jockey to Martin Pipe, and the hottest trainer at the meeting after three winners on Wednesday and three more on Thursday. Elliott saddles four, and there may not be much between at least three of them.

Flawless Escape is a joint favourite, and the mount of Jonathon Moore. He has been consistent this season, winning twice and being placed on his other two starts, most recently in a Grade B Handicap at Leopardstown over three miles. A five year old with few miles on the clock, he should again run his race.

Sire Du Berlais, for whom Donal McInerney will sport the green and gold silks, is also towards the head of the market. He caught the eye when flying late at Fairyhouse last time, and is the sort of improving young horse that wins this race. Meanwhile, Blow By Blow won a Grade 3 novice hurdle with ease last time and is also seriously on the upgrade. This will be his first start in a handicap, Donagh Meyler taking the ride.

The thoroughly exposed Flaxen Flare rounds out Elliott's quartet. Exposed but with an excellent course record: he won the 2013 Fred Winter, was 4th in the Greatwood Hurdle later that year, and ran fifth in the County Hurdle in 2014. He's not been seen much since and, after an abortive chasing career, reverts to hurdles for the first time since an eleven length third to Apple's Jade four starts back. He'll probably outrun 66/1 quotes.

One that cattches my eye is Harry Fry's Melrose Boy. Third in a soft ground Grade 3 handicap hurdle last time - form franked by Topofthegame on Tuesday - this drop back in trip will suit and he too has few miles on the clock. 25/1 with as many extra places as you can get is attractive.

And how much would David Pipe love to win the race named in his father's honour? He's 0 from 18, one place, so far, which tempers enthusiasm for the unbeaten Mr Big Shot, a 16/1 chance making his handicap debut after a year off the track. Unexposed as he is, I'd want to see a good bit of money for him before having the confidence to follow them in. And, even then, I'd choke on the notion of having to miss the pick of the prices.

Obviously, bundles more with chances.

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Pace Map

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Tips

I genuinely have no idea and will not be betting. It is however the last leg of the hardest placepot of the week. From that perspective, Melrose Boy and the top three Elliott horses will all make my ticket. Melrose Boy is almost worth a stab at the prices.

Best hopeless guess in a tricky race: Melrose Boy 25/1 Coral

**

5.30 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m 62yds)

Grand Annual Preview

And so to the final race of 28 this week. The Home Time Handicap - also known as the Grand Annual - is a ferociously competitive two mile speed test when the job of leaping at full pelt in a big field finds most aspirants out.

The two for me are both green-and-gold'ers. First, representing last year's winning stable, is Don't Touch It. Trained by Jessica Harrington and ridden by the excellent Mark Walsh, whose record on the horse reads 2231214, this chap has clearly been laid out for the race. That doesn't set him apart from many others, except that a) his trainer knows how to win it (and is very close friends with Nicky Henderson, whose father Johnny the race commemorates), b) he has an almost perfect profile against the race conditions, and c) his hold up run style looks ideally suited to the expected fierce tempo.

My other swipe is Paul Nicholls' Le Prezien. Ol' Pumpkin also knows how to win a Grand Annual, having achieved the feat three times since 2004, most recently in 2016 with Solar Impulse. Le Prezien is a hold up horse - tick; will relish conditions - tick; has back class tying him in with Grade 1 chasers - tick; and gets assistance from Barry Geraghty... well, you can't have everything, can you?

On a more serious note, BJG has been a little out of luck/form this week, Buveur d'Air aside, and I'll be betting that he has a better Friday as you've seen above.

Loads of others with chances of course, though I'm against North Hill Harvey, whose trainer, Dan Skelton, is 1 from 27 in the last fortnight, and who may be compromised by being too close to a speed meltdown. If the speed was to hold up - unlikely - Gino Trail could be over-priced at 25/1.

Grand Annual Pace Map

Grand Annual Handicap Chase 2018: Pace Map

Grand Annual Handicap Chase 2018: Pace Map

Grand Annual Tips

Lord help you if you need to get out of jail on this race. Though, if there is a benevolent deity, he's probably backed Le Prezien and Don't Touch It - that's the white hat and the red hat for those watching in colour. Hope vastly trumps expectation.

Two each way against the rest: Don't Touch It 10/1 general, Le Prezien 16/1 bet365 (1/4 1-2-3-4-5)

**

And that's your lot. However things go on Gold Cup day, I hope you've had a brilliant week enjoying top class sport. The first three days have been utterly dominated by the Irish, and I'm hoping that changes on Friday. Maybe that's not a smart way to bet? Only time will tell.

Thanks a lot for your company this week, and good luck!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2018: Day Three Preview, Tips

And so to the second half. The bad news for those who find themselves behind at this stage is that it gets tougher hereafter. Yikes. We start with an intermediate distance novices' chase where they bet 3/1 the field...

1.30 JLT Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 2m 3f 198yds)

JLT Novices' Chase Preview

A tricky race likely to be run at a good clip.  The market has an Irish horse at its head whereas the official ratings show a couple of Brits leading the pack.

Commencing with the ratings, top rated currently is Modus. Paul Nicholls' 8yo has beaten a total of seven rivals in winning three races this year; if that's unimpressive, the manner with which he's despatched them has been more appealing. Still, none would cut much ice here and the lack of top class winning form is a worry. It's one of those where it would be a tad disappointing were he good enough to win, unless of course he steps forward on what he's shown: after 21 career starts he probably doesn't have the progression of some of his rivals.

Next in is Finian's Oscar. Undoubtedly talented, he's been somewhat unpredictable - like many from his yard - and fair choked it last time on heavy. That may be a more literal statement than it first appears as he's since had a wind op and comes here for his first post-surgery run. He has little to find on the book but, aside from his Jekyll and Hyde profile, the other reservation is the going. There is not a large body of evidence from which to work but that was a lamentable showing in the mud last time, his only race on heavy turf. Perhaps it was an aberration and I certainly wouldn't be adamant he can't act on such deep underfoot, but nor would I want to bet at 6/1 that he can.

Invitation Only is favoured. Willie Mullins' horse has, in my view (but not that of the official handicapper), the best form in the race. That is his close third in the Flogas Chase, the value of which we'll understand better after the first, second and fourth from there re-oppose in the RSA. If he didn't have too hard a race there, he'll go close, though a niggle remains that he's been beaten each of three times he's stepped into Grade 2 or better company.

Nicky Henderson runs the unbeaten in Britain Terrefort. Two wins, at Huntingdon and then in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at Sandown, were recorded on soft ground but he won twice on heavy in his native France prior to importation. He looks a very smart recruit with doubtless more to come; if ridden a little patiently, behind the likes of Shattered Love and perhaps Bigmartre, he should see it out well.

Although I'm open to being wrong - certainly not dogmatic about it - I don't feel that Benatar's form is quite as strong. It ties in with Finian's Oscar's more recent endeavours, but those don't excite too much in this context either. Gary Moore's charge comes here on the four-timer so he's given his owners a lot of fun already but a doubt about the ground allied to slightly below top form make him a 'no' from me.

A horse of interest at a bigger price is Shattered Love. She is 11211 this season, including a Grade 1 score over three miles at Christmas. That was on soft ground and prior to that she won over two miles on heavy in a Grade 3. That's solid form, and she has a winning mentality generally which makes 17/2 appealing, at least from an each way perspective.

The rest don't look up to this.

JLT Novices' Chase Pace Map

JLT Novices' Chase 2018: Pace Map

JLT Novices' Chase 2018: Pace Map

JLT Novices' Chase Tips

A few horses a few pounds shy of top class and this doesn't look a vintage renewal. I reckon Shattered Love might give a bold display from the front, but Terrefort looks the sort to keep improving for a while yet and he's already just about the best in the race. 4/1 is worth a play.

Best value win bet: Terrefort 4/1 general

Best value each way bet: Shattered Love 17/2 bet365 1/4 1-2-3

**

2.10 Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 7f 213yds)

Pertemps Final Preview

You've got to be kidding me! This is harem scarem stuff. Using the 'avoid bad bets' methodology, I'll try Who Dares Wins and A Great View against the masses.

Who Dares Wins rarely runs a bad race, including when third in the Coral Cup behind Stayers' Hurdle favourite, Supersundae, last year. This is a first try at the three mile range and he's got heavy ground to contend with also, but he has been pretty reliable in big field handicaps over the years and will race within striking distance of the leaders if good enough. He has few secrets from the handicapper, however.

One with a less obvious profile is A Great View, a green and gold runner from the little heralded yard of Denis Cullen. Four pounds higher than his Irish mark, he needed those extras to sneak into the race, and his very close second of 29 in the Leopardstown qualifier (soft) over Christmas is strong form. That was followed by a quiet ride when fifth of 16 behind Total Recall in a Grade B handicap hurdle at the Dublin Festival, an outing that should have brought him to concert pitch for this. I'd imagine he'll shorten a fair bit given connections, and the 16/1 NRNB BOG is good value.

Trip and ground are ideal for Theo's Charm, and he's a third horse worth a look if you can get a few extra places to play each way. Oodles more with prospects.

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Pertemps Final 2018: Pace Map

Pertemps Final 2018: Pace Map

Pertemps Final Preview Tips

I'll keep this brief as it's not a race I think I have a handle on. But A Great View could be a well handicapped horse in spite of a couple of bonus points form the British 'capper. 16/1 is the each way bet for me.

Best value each way bet: A Great View 16/1 (BetVictor 1/4 1-2-3-4-5)

**

2.50 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4f 166yds)

Ryanair Chase Preview

Just seven in this and, if Douvan sticks to the Champion Chase as expected, it will be six. Nevertheless, it's an interesting little heat. Un De Sceaux is the defending champion and he has a fair bit going for him in the repeat bid. He is two from two this season, beating first Top Gamble and then Speredek into second. I'm not entirely convinced of the strength of that form and, as can be seen below, there may be fair bit of pace in the race to prevent a front-running performance.

UDS sets the standard in spite of those reservations, but at ten years old and at even money, I'm looking for an alternative. Sub Lieutenant is no back number himself, though his primary objective here is surely pace-making/spoiling for his more able connection-mate, Balko Des Flos.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Balko is the young pretender: at seven, only Frodon in this field is younger (six). He ran an excellent second to Road To Respect at Leopardstown over Christmas (three miles, yielding) and comes here a fresh horse. There may be a slight niggle about the ground for him, and he does seem to find one too good a little too often for my tastes; but he's talented and moving forwards and could be a big danger under the excellent Davy Russell. Still, 5/2 is unexciting.

Cue Card showed there's life in the old dog yet when a close second to the excellent Waiting Patiently last time at Ascot (this trip and similar ground), and he is by no means out of this. As an eleven-year-old, he has a heck of a lot of history against him - and, actually, given his Festival record, a heck of a lot of history for him too! 13/2 is playable, though there may be a Douvan rule 4 on that, meaning 9/2 is more like it. He'd bring the house down were he to win.

But I'll roll the dice with young Frodon. Tough and consistent, he may not be quite as classy as some of these but would only have to step forward a handful of pounds to be in the shake up. The ground will be fine for him, he should get the run of the race with plenty of dash in this short field. As ever, it's the price that makes the bet, 11/1 being too big.

Ryanair Chase Pace Map

Ryanair Chase 2018: Pace Map

Ryanair Chase 2018: Pace Map

 

Ryanair Chase Tips

Un De Sceaux will make a bold bid to double up, even money perhaps overstating how bold. Balko Des Flos will be far from a shock but is too short also. Cue Card will probably get bet because he's the people's horse, so take 9/2 BOG if you want it. But I'm taking a flyer on Frodon. I like this young man, who has danced many dances here in his short life to date. 11/1 looks over the top.

Best value bet (win or each way): Frodon 11/1 general

**

3.30 Sunbets Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 7f 213yds)

Stayers' Hurdle Preview

A Stayers' Hurdle perhaps short on quality but consequently long on competitiveness  makes for a fascinating punting puzzle. Underlining that point, there are no fewer than six horses separated by just three pounds on official ratings between 161 and 164 - whereas recent renewals have been won by horses rated close to or above 170.

Sam Spinner, from the unfashionable Jedd O'Keefe yard, is the favourite, and that looks right given his ascendant profile and very good form on deep ground. He was impressive in the Long Walk Hurdle - a key trial - last time, beating the high class yardstick but hard-to-win-with L'Ami Serge snugly in the end. Prior to that he'd turned a competitive looking handicap hurdle into a procession at Haydock. His rating has gone 136-139-155-164 this term so who is to say he's done improving yet?

The one reservation is whether The New One will allow him the lead he probably craves. TNO's team may wish they'd gone for the Champion Hurdle this year such was the state of the Tuesday turf, but that is history now and their gig is this one. With stamina to prove and very little reason to expect him to step forward he's tough to recommend.

Of the two JP McManus runners, I'm surprised that Unowhatimeanharry is available at longer odds than Yanworth. 'harry was third in this last year when sent off at odds-0n, and he's run acceptably in defeat this term. A ten length third to Sam Spinner at Ascot, he'll relish the deeper conditions this time. He has apparently been working very well and I think he's a good each way play in spite of not necessarily expecting him to reverse form with Sam.

Yanworth was chasing but couldn't jump a fence. He struggles with a hurdle too. He is undoubtedly in possession of a touch of class, is two from two on heavy and has the beating of Supasundae on Aintree form last term. I just don't happen to rate the form line. If I'm wrong about that, I'll be on the wrong horses here. Them's the breaks.

The likes of Lil Rockefeller, Old Guard and Penhill - still less Bacardys - have too much to find on the book.

Stayers' Hurdle Pace Map

Stayers' Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

Stayers' Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

Stayers' Hurdle Tips

There are not many horses with the scope to progress markedly in this field, the main exception being Sam Spinner. If he can get the lead without too much duress, he'll be a very hard horse to pass, and I think his 'working man' connections make him a bigger price than he should be.

Best value win bet: Sam Spinner 4/1 general

**

4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m 4f 166yds)

Brown Advisory Plate Handicap Chase Preview

Unfathomable stuff as far as I can tell. Using the 'avoid bad bets' approach mentioned elsewhere, I'll remove horses trained by the 'volume trainers'. After that I'll take one from the top and one from the bottom.

At the top my dart is Tully East. Winner of the Novices' Handicap Chase at this meeting last year, he's ten pounds higher this time around. But, with a strong preference for two and a half miles and good form on heavy, it may not be enough to stop him running another gallant race. Denis O'Regan is a decent jockey for playing the cards late, and the expected strong pace here is in his favour too.

Much more speculatively, Ballyalton could go well. He was the winner of the same Festival race as Tully East a year earlier, off a mark of 140. Lightly raced since, he comes here off a two pounds lower mark. He did pull up last time but was a good fourth in a big field handicap on soft ground at the November meeting, that off a five pounds higher rating. I'm not certain he'll cope with the ground - he's never raced on heavy - but the price accommodates that concern, for small money.

The rest also have chances!

Brown Advisory Plate Handicap Chase Pace Map

Brown Advisory Plate 2018: Pace Map

Brown Advisory Plate 2018: Pace Map

Brown Advisory Plate Handicap Chase Tips

Two against the field are the last two winners of the Novices' Handicap Chase run on the opening day of the Festival.

Two against the field: Tully East 9/1 Coral, Ballyalton 20/1 Hills

**

4.50 Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m 179yds)

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Preview

Possibly the weakest race at the Festival - Fred Winter aside - the mares' novices' hurdle looks like it will be a good race for the favourite. Won in the inaugural two years by Willie Mullins' good things, Limini and Let's Dance, it will probably be won again this year by Willie Mullins' good thing, Laurina.

She is only the second highest rated in the field, according to BHA ratings, but her two Irish wins were both on heavy and she remains 'could be anything' material.

Top rated is Stuart Edmunds' tough mare, Marias Benefit. She comes here on a six-timer, having started in handicaps off a lowly 117. She was progressively elevated to 152 before her last run where, despite winning, she dropped back to a peg of 147. The problem for her looks to be her love of the lead and the presence of a potential spoiler. Cut The Mustard is in the same ownership as Laurina and races prominently. If taking Marias Benefit on to be the point of the peloton, she could compromise that one's chances and set things up for the favourite. I suspect that may happen.

The rest are not good enough on what they've done, and would have to leap forward by a stone and more to overcome those at the head of the market. Cap Soleil is one who could sneak into the frame for local trainer, Fergal O'Brien. She won a heavy ground Listed hurdle last time and her held up run style will keep her out of a firing line expected to claim a casualty or two. It would be no surprise to see her pick up the pieces for second or third.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

Mares' Novices' Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

Mares' Novices' Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Tips

This is about Willie again. But Cap Soleil might be worth a small each way 'without the favourite' interest.

Best route in if you don't like 4/6 Laurina: Cap Soleil each way without the favourite (no prices currently, but 7/2 or better acceptable)

**

5.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase (Class 2, 3m 2f)

Kim Muir Preview

Amateur riders, three and a quarter miles, fences, handicap chase, heavy ground. Crikey.

I'll be taking an old established stayer with an old established rider for my two against the field in this. Step forward Pendra and Band Of Blood.

Pendra is green and gold, and has the excellent Derek O'Connor riding. He also has top weight, which doesn't make things easy, but he's got form on heavy (2nd-1st), loves Cheltenham (1st-3rd-5th-2nd at the last four Festivals), and handles big fields. What's not to like?

Dr Richard Newland's Band Of Blood is a fellow ten-year-old, like Pendra, and he comes here on a hat-trick. He actually has few recent miles on the clock having missed the previous two seasons before returning last month. This will be a fairly quick third outing in five weeks, which is a bit of a concern, but he has back class and good recent form in the book. Heavy is no problem for him and nor is the trip. James King, one of the better UK riders, takes to the plate.

In a race where it's often better to be lucky than good, I'll chance that pair against the rest.

Kim Muir Pace Map

Kim Muir Handicap Chase 2018: Pace Map

Kim Muir Handicap Chase 2018: Pace Map

Kim Muir Tips

Two each way against the field:  Pendra 11/1 general, Band Of Blood 14/1 Hills

**

It's my least favourite day of the four - tricky punting and lower quality - so the above deliberations should be consumed in that context. Still, if a bad day at the races is better than a good day at the office, then a bad day at Cheltenham is better than many good days at the races!

How are you going so far? And what do you like for Day 3?

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2018: Day Two Preview, Tips

The second quarter of Cheltenham's four day March bonanza looks set to be contested on wet turf but under dry skies, with the feature race - the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase - subject to more confusion and suspense than Henry James' The Turn Of The Screw. That race, currently with Douvan but possibly without Altior, is the cornerstone of a septet of high class shemozzles, beginning with a headline horse in the...

1.30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 5f 26yds)

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Preview

One of the most exciting horses to run this week - for many people, the most exciting - is the Gordon Elliott-trained Samcro, favourite for the opening middle distance novices' hurdle. Unbeaten in seven career starts - a point, three bumpers and three novice hurdles - he's looked more impressive with each run this term and has that priceless combination of class, speed and stamina. Add to that some progressively slick and athletic leaping and he's a horse that is impossible to crab. Unfortunately, the world and his wife have bestowed upon Samcro 'second coming' status as a consequence of which he's a prohibitively short price. Not necessarily the wrong price, but not your archetypal working woman's wager either.

With form on heavy ground and at trips up to three miles (in a point, where he beat RSA-bound Elegant Escape), there are few questions left to answer. But there are not none. Samcro will have to prove he is as effective off the boat - this will be his first trip away from Ireland; he will have to show he can handle a deep and classy field; and he will need to deal with the Festival crowd with all of its noise and colour. I imagine he will probably cope just fine with all three, and I'd certainly not be trying to get him beaten by an Irish horse which has already run against him.

Next Destination is one yet to cross swords with Samcro. Trained by Willie Mullins, he too is unbeaten in three novice hurdles and he too won a Grade 1 last time out. The son of Dubai Destination, out of a Flemensfirth mare, scored at Naas that day over two and a half miles. There he beat Cracking Smart, trained by Elliott, a length having enjoyed a more comfortable five and a half length margin over the same horse the time before. It could be argued that the second looked the stronger stayer that last day; regardless of that, his trainer will be confident he has a much better card to play this time.

Mullins actually runs four, the next best of which - according to the market, and to established form - is Duc Des Genievres. This fellow was no match for Samcro in the Deloitte two back, nor could he go with Next Destination last time, and it is quite hard to see him reversing form with either.

Of mildly more interest are the unexposed but hitherto significantly inferior in form terms pair of Scarpeta and Brahma Bull. Scarpeta, a son of Soldier Of Fortune, was middling on the flat for Mark Johnston; but, as so many progeny of that stallion do, he's stepped forward for longer trips and eight-plus flights of hurdles.

With just two hurdle starts to his name, most recently a twenty length demolition in a field of twenty (two miles, heavy ground), he has the capacity to improve markedly on what he's done thus far. Clearly, he'll need to.

Brahma Bull has a taking string of 1's next to his name, earned in three bumpers and a maiden hurdle. He's unbeaten and has won on heavy and at trips ranging from two to three miles, the most impressive of which was when stepped up in range last time. This is obviously a chasmic leap in class but perhaps 40/1 overstates that wagering risk.

Is there a British horse to beat Samcro? If there is it is most likely to be Black Op, whose form in narrow defeat to Santini is solid. [Boring stat alert] He's by Sandmason, one of only five of whose progeny have raced in Britain or Ireland in the last six months, and another of whose progeny is Summerville Boy, in the same ownership and bidding for glory in the opening race of the Festival.

That Santini run was in a heavy ground Grade 2 on Trials Day here, solid enough form but form where he looked to be running out of rope close home. In fairness, there were 30 lengths back to the third, but the depth of the race has to be taken on trust at this stage. It is either the case that a number of rivals failed to run their races, or the winner and second are very smart. Certainly a big run from Black Op here would be a strong pointer to the chance of Santini in the Albert Bartlett on Friday.

Of more interest, in a brown or bust sort of way, is Vision Des Flos. Colin Tizzard's inmate won the prestigious Goffs Land Rover Bumper on rules debut before disappointing thrice in novice hurdles subsequently. He had a wind op prior to coming back to that level of form in a Listed race at Exeter last time, a race run on heavy ground. He's not a reliable proposition - actually, he's a bit of a guess really - but he does have two very good races in the book and he's 16/1.

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle 2018: Pace Map

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Tips

Ultimately, it's very hard to get away from Samcro. He can be backed at 4/6 and he may make that price look generous by 1.40pm. But with other possible routes into the race - each way and without the favourite - he has to be taken on somehow. I don't really want to be against him so I'm interested in the 'without' market, where Vision Des Flos could be interesting. No prices at time of writing.

Best bet 'without the favourite': Vision Des Flos each way at [no prices yet, but 7/1+ would be playable]

**

2.10 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 3m 80yds)

RSA Chase Preview

A smallish field, just ten go to post, for what will likely be a searching test of stamina in the conditions. A chance of a contested pace - see below - amplifies the stamina pre-requisite for the task.

Presenting Percy is a strong stayer and is the favourite. He's four from five on heavy ground, the only blot on that copybook being a close second to a leading Gold Cup fancy off level weights last time out. That's arguably the best piece of form in the race, albeit that it was over half a mile shorter than this. It was probably not quite as tough a race as some have suggested, though Percy has been engaged in heated battle a few times this term.

His trainer, Pat Kelly, has an incredible record at the Festival with his small team. Indeed, from just three starts, he's won with this lad and with Mall Dini, the latter only beaten three lengths in the Kim Muir when bidding to follow up. Presenting Percy will be kept away from any pace burn up and looks to have a lot in his favour.

It's a moot point as to who his biggest rivals may be, the trio of Monalee, Al Boum Photo and Dounikos within a length and a half of each other in a Grade 1 last time. Monalee was the winner that day - fairly tenacious he was, too - fending off persistent and multiple challenges approaching and after the last. With that pace-pressing style he looks vulnerable and may struggle to confirm placings with the pair behind him.

Of the two, I marginally prefer Dounikos. His best form is on heavy and he looked to be crying out for this longer trip in recent starts. He could be hard to keep out of the frame. Certainly there ought not to be much between him and Al Boum Photo, that one threatening Dounikos when coming down at the last in a Limerick Grade 2 on Boxing Day. The betting has Monalee at 7/2, Al Boum Photo at 6/1 and Dounikos at 8/1. That looks wrong with no more than a couple of points between the three in my book.

Best of the British may be the wonderful story horse, Black Corton.  He's made Bryony Frost a household name - in racing households at least - and has given her the chance to show what a very good rider she is. Paul Nicholls' charge has actually made the frame in 16 of 18 starts, which is pretty impressive, but has never raced on heavy. I'd have major reservations about the combination of ground and calibre of opposition, but there's little doubt it would be one of the headlines of the week if this chap could win.

Although the fancy prices have evaporated now, Elegant Escape - that solitary length behind Samcro in a point to point - has a verdict over Black Corton and looks more likely to enjoy very testing conditions. I'd be happy to take Colin Tizzard's lad in a match bet with Paul Nicholls' at any rate, without necessarily thinking he has enough about him to get the lot.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has plotted a familiar route with Ballyoptic, winning the Towton at Wetherby last time and having run at the November meeting earlier in the season, reminiscent of Blaklion two years ago. If he could get deliver a clear round, there should be little between him and Black Corton, and he's the sort who might produce a shock if the Irish form turns out not to be what I think it is.

RSA Chase Pace Map

RSA Chase 2018: Pace Map

RSA Chase 2018: Pace Map

RSA Chase Tips

Presenting Percy is going to be pretty hard to beat. He'll stay out of trouble on the first circuit and gradually make his mark on the second. If he didn't leave his race behind at Gowran last time - and I don't think he did - he should win.

Each way players rejoice for this is a heat where you'll feel you have a chance whichever one you like (unless you like Full Irish). For me, the marginal differences in collateral form make Dounikos better value than either Monalee or Al Boum Photo, and Ballyoptic - if his jumping holds - better value than Black Corton. Either is playable win and place.

Best value win bet: Presenting Percy (but only at 5/2 or better)

Value each way alternatives: Dounikos (8/1) and Ballyoptic (16/1)

**

2.50 Coral Cup (Grade 3 Handicap, 2m 5f 26yds)

Coral Cup Preview

You don't seriously want a tip in this race, do you? Really?!

Your first 30 days for just £1

My route in is a shortlist from the principles outlined in this post, and then go for those with good form on heavy ground and in big fields. Two to catch the eye like that are Ben Pauling's Red Indian, and Joseph O'Brien's reserve, Mischievious Max.

Red Indian has very little to find on Lanzarote Hurdle running with favourite, William Henry, and he's a consistent type who will enjoy the way this race is run. Although he's gone up eight pounds for being beaten four times, he has progressed with each run. Some bookies will be paying extra places in this big field bun fight and I'll be suckered in on that score.

Mischievious Max needs one to come out to get a run and, if he does, he has similar claims. He is weighted to reverse placings with Red Indian on their November form here and, though higher than his Irish mark, looks fairly treated if he sneaks in.

Two dozen others who wouldn't totally surprise if they went in. Pay your money, take your pick.

Coral Cup Pace Map

Coral Cup 2018: Pace Map

Coral Cup 2018: Pace Map

Coral Cup Tips

Two guesses, one of which could be a money back non-runner. Red Indian is a tough consistent sort crying out for a stiffer stamina test, and Mischievious Max (spelling, eh?) has a similar profile from the very bottom of the weights if granted entry.

Wanton each way guess: Red Indian 33/1 (Ladbrokes only paying four places, so it might be worth splitting stake with a bookie paying more places albeit at a shorter win and/or on tighter place terms)

**

3.30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1, 1m 7f 199yds)

Champion Chase Preview

It's hard to know where to start with this race. If you were looking at the racecard in a history book, you'd say, "Wow, the day Douvan and Altior clashed in a championship race". But, with doubts over Altior's participation after a foot problem - said on Tuesday morning to be okay to run - and with Douvan returning from a year off since his 2/9 flop in the race last year, it is hard to weigh up exactly what might happen.

On their best form, Douvan has run to 174 while Altior is on 170. That gives Douvan the historical edge. The very fact he's lining up here tips the wink to his wellbeing though, like Faugheen, whether he's the same horse of a year (or two) ago remains to be seen. The fact he's two from two on heavy ground, and that he was a possible for the longer Ryanair Chase - and therefore is expected to stay - bodes well for his chance if he's the horse of up to a year ago.

Meanwhile, Altior has had his own interrupted preparation. Off most of a year after his end of season win at Sandown in April last year, he had a wind op prior to comfortably accounting for Politologue in the Game Spirit a month ago. There had been suggestions about the bounce factor second run off a layoff but I'd be surprised if that beat him. Of more concern is that foot problem and the fact he's never raced on heavy ground before. That doesn't mean he won't act on it, but it does mean he may not act on it. At a top priced 5/4, you won't get especially well rewarded for buying a ticket to find out.

So what if they both clunk? Is there another who could pick up the pieces? Min is the obvious one: he comes here without any injury or 'gone at the game' scares so, while his top rating of 167 leaves him a bit to find, he is more likely to run his 'A' race. Apart from finishing behind a sensational Altior in the Supreme of 2016, Min has been first past the post in his other seven races (demoted to second two starts back). He remains progressive, is two from two on heavy, and is a pretty tempting bet at around 7/2.

Of the rest, Politologue is not as good as these three; Special Tiara surely has no chance on the ground, likewise God's Own, though Ar Mad cannot be totally discounted of running some sort of race, his chance likely to be compromised if getting involved in the likely speed burn on the front end. Ordinary World is another the ground has probably betrayed.

But if you want to have a mad bet in case one or both of the top two fail to fire for whatever reason, perhaps Charbel could be the one. He was in the process of running Altior close when falling two out in the Arkle last season, has form on heavy, and will be sitting behind the speed when many are blazing their jets up top.

Champion Chase Pace Map

Champion Chase 2018: Pace Map

Champion Chase 2018: Pace Map

Champion Chase Tips

A very hard race to bet in. Altior, with doubts about his foot, the ground and perhaps the bounce is opposable at 5/4. Douvan has to be bypassed, though is clearly respected on his best form. Min is the solid one, and perhaps a tiny bit of value at 4/1 in a place. For dreamers and fantasists - aren't we all? - Charbel is the Hail Mary play .

Best value win bet: Min 4/1 sportingbet

Best value tiny stakes Hail Mary each way bet: Charbel 40/1 (bet365 1/4 1-2-3)

**

4.10 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase (Class 2, 3m 6f 37yds)

Cross Country Chase Preview

Hmm... Not everyone's cup of tea but a race I like. Heavy ground is a new imponderable and it's probably discounted my main bet in the race - Tiger Roll - before they start. Let's talk about the Tiger...

A Triumph Hurdle winner in his early days, he added the four mile National Hunt Chase to his CV last term, both races run on quick ground. Apart from a maiden hurdle on soft at Market Rasen, he's only ever won on top of the turf and this ain't that. Which is a pity, because he's been given a cracking 'job' preparation, having a bimble around the course in December, eventually finishing fifth having never been sighted.

It was a ride akin to that which prepared Cause Of Causes for his victory in the race last year, and his recent school over the fences was very good too. But. But... the ground has gone against him.

Last year's winner, meanwhile, probably doesn't want it desperate either. He's bidding for a remarkable fourth Festival win and, if he gets through the ground, he has a chance - one which is evidently factored into his price.

The Last Samuri was presumed heading straight to Aintree and I'm not sure connections would want to scupper his Grand National chance by bottoming him out here. That said, he is the highest rated horse in the race, handles heavy ground and stays well. I'm not sure he has quite the finishing kick required for this game which makes 6/1 too short for me.

Of more interest are Bless The Wings and, to a lesser degree, Cantlow. Yes, I know they're both very slow. But Bless The Wings could appreciate the ground, and has cross country course form of 342221. He is probably susceptible to a better finishing kick but 10/1 is more like it.

Cantlow won on heavy last time, and has cross country course form of 012342, including when third as the 9/4 favourite in this last year. 20/1 is a bit of value and he might be the pick of the Enda Bolger group entry.

Josies Orders and Auvergnat fought out a tight finish in the PP Hogan Chase on heavy last time. They're two more strings to Enda's bow.

And the French have also to be respected. The nature of this race - crawl then sprint finish - suits their general style of racing, and some of the raiding party this term have prior course experience. Urgent De Gregaine is the best known of the Gallics, having won here and run third in his two visits. But he doesn't seem to want deep ground.

Urumqi, by contrast, has lots of placed form on heavy. I don't know anything about him - not even how to pronounce his name (Your room key?) - but he ought to be suited by the run of things, has cross country form, and will handle the ground. 40/1 might be worth a stab if you're happy to accept that he might not stay and might not be good enough.

And Vicomte De Seuil was second here on his first attempt. But the fact he couldn't get past Kingswell Theatre tempers enthusiasm.

Cross Country Chase Pace Map*

*Overseas runners have incomplete data

Cross Country Chase 2018: pace map

Cross Country Chase 2018: pace map

Cross Country Chase Tips

A really trappy race where Cause Of Causes has an obvious chance but perhaps no better than his odds suggest. Cantlow is quite interesting at a price, though this looks as open a renewal as there has been for a while. Bless The Wings should again be on the premises.

Best win bet: Cause Of Causes 11/4 general

Best value each way bet: Cantlow 20/1 Skybet 1/5 1-2-3-4

**

4.50 Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 87yds)

Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle Preview

This is a race I'll be watching with great interest rather than wagering on. It's a tough race historically with many a big priced winner. And hopefully this year the big priced winner will be geegeez.co.uk syndicate horse, Oxford Blu.

First the bad news: he's not as classy as most of these and could well be simply not good enough. But, on the bright side, he may be the strongest stayer in the race, ought to handle the ground, hurdles well, travels well and has Richard Johnson riding him. Myself and most of the syndicate are going to have one of the thrills of a lifetime up to and during this race, and let's hope he gets home safe and runs a big one. Go on Oxford!

This being a handicap I'm not going to go long on the form book. Rather I'll say that Look My Way and, at bigger prices, Grand Sancy may be interesting.

Look My Way has collateral form with Triumph Hurdle favourite, Apple's Shakira, on this track on Trials Day. His form also ties in with Act Of Valour, and he'll handle the ground.

So too will Grand Sancy, for master Fred Winter trainer, Paul Nicholls. This lad has been given a quiet time of it since running second to the very smart bumper horse Acey Milan in a junior NH Flat race at Wincanton in December. He sneaks in here off near bottom weight, handles heavy, and gets the services of Sam Twiston-Davies. He looks temptingly priced at 25/1.

Nick Williams is the other 'go to' trainer in this race, and he runs both Mercenaire and Esprit De Somoza. Both have had classic Williams preps and one or both are expected to run good races in a wide open affair. Preference is for the latter.

Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle Pace Map

Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle: Pace Map

Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle: Pace Map

Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle Tips

Fiendish stuff, and I'm obviously blinded by the Blu! Of the rest, Grand Sancy and the Williams pair of Esprit de Somoza and Mercenaire look most interesting.

Best value each way bet: Grand Sancy 25/1 general

Others to consider: Mercenaire, Esprit de Somoza, Look My Way, the rest!

Blind loyalty bet: OXFORD BLU 20/1 🙂

**

5.30 Weatherby's Champion Bumper (Grade 1, 2m 87yds)

Champion Bumper Preview

Hard going is this, and the ratings offer a little help for the clueless (i.e. me). Top of the pile are Blackbow and Acey Milan. The former is unbeaten in a point and two bumpers and is the first choice of Willie Mullins, winner of eight renewals of this race. There ought not to be much between him and the close up second from their last day Grade 2 meeting, Rhinestone, the latter being twice the price.

But I'm letting heart rule head again, and plumping for the three-time bumper winner, Acey Milan. This four-year-old, trained by the geegeez-sponsored yard of Anthony Honeyball, will relish conditions, gets a seven pounds age allowance, and is obviously talented as evidenced by his second-top rating. It's a race the Honeyball yard almost won in 2013 when Regal Encore beat all bar Briar Hill (remember him? 25/1, trained by Willie, ridden by Ruby) and they again have a fine chance.

The Willie/Ruby axis is represented by Carefully Selected this time, the combination having had three further placed runners in this from eight starters. The form of this lad's debut Leopardstown win at Christmas has been well franked, so 12/1 might appeal to each way players.

Champion Bumper Pace Map

Champion Bumper 2018: Pace Map

Champion Bumper 2018: Pace Map

Champion Bumper Tips

Very difficult, obviously, and my route in is the heart not the head. This is acceptable as the head has no clue, and wagering will be kept to commensurate levels of 'interest only'. In that caveated context, Acey Milan is my cheer.

Best win play: Acey Milan 8/1 general (look for extra places if betting each way)

**

That's who I like on Day 2. What about you? And how did you get on with the opening day? Leave a comment and let us know.

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2018: Day 1 Preview, Tips

The countdown to the 2018 Cheltenham Festival has begun and, with the advent of 48 hour declarations, we knew Tuesday's final fields on Sunday morning. Hallelujah! Whilst there remains a shadow of doubt about the day one weather, I am assuming it will be at least very soft and (far?) more likely heavy, regardless of the official going description. The thoughts in this post will reflect that assumption.

We get underway to the traditional roar at 1.30pm on Tuesday with the...

1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 87 yds)

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Preview

Getabird is a warm favourite here coming, as he does, from the Mullins/Ricci production line and being, as he is, unbeaten. The only relevant piece of form is his most recent start, a nine length verdict over re-opposing Mengli Khan in receipt of six pounds. That puts just four pounds between the pair on BHA performance ratings, with the form arguably anchored by the proximity of the third horse, the decent but by no means top drawer, Carter McKay.

Still, the Mullins horse was a facile winner in spite of the protestations from Mengli's trainer, Gordon Elliott, that his horse was not quite right that day. If you believe Elliott you might be more tempted by his horse's 12/1 quote than Getabird's 7/4. If you like the favourite, I'd be sure you'll get 2/1 on the day and perhaps even 5/2 for small money in the early concessionary skirmishes.

And what of the major British challengers? Kalashnikov is the highest in the betting rank, at 9/2 second favourite. He was somewhat overlooked after his barreling Betfair Hurdle win, still available at 10/1 the day after. Nothing has happened, with the exception of further Prestbury Park precipitation, to halve his odds. He's an attractive each way play, with conditions looking optimal and with that bombproof handicap form in the book.

Whilst most would favour handicap efforts over conditions race in terms of the reliability of the form, it must be noted that Kalashnikov was put in his place on his penultimate start by Summerville Boy. That one, still generally 10/1 - twice the price of his victim that day, had previously been beaten thrice on faster ground. If heavy is the key to him, then the way he finished off two back over course and distance offers hope to his supporters.

There are a couple of 'wise guy' horses in here in the shape of Paloma Blue and First Flow, though both look short enough on what they've done. Paloma Blue was outclassed by Samcro (fair enough) and outstayed by Duc Des Genievres (harder to excuse) in the Deloitte last time, and has been beaten at this trip by horses that want further. He doesn't look a strong enough stayer in the ground to me.

First Flow on the other hand does nothing better than stay: he's a relentless galloper who has won the last twice on heavy, including in a Haydock Grade 2 last time. But his two main market rivals both failed to fire giving the form a hollow look, and his previous win - where he was under heavy pressure in the closing stages despite the eventual 20 length winning margin - cuts little ice in this company. Neither is for me at the prices.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

2018 Supreme Novices' Hurdle pace map

2018 Supreme Novices' Hurdle pace map

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Tips

A confluence of more reliable but arguably exposed form (Kalashnikov) and untapped potential (Getabird). I expect the current price differential 9/2 vs 7/4 to converge somewhat to 7/2 and 9/4 or thereabouts, and that perhaps aligns to their respective chances more adequately. Certainly there will be a point when Getabird becomes a backable price - he has an obvious chance but one that is over-stated by the market currently to my eye - and that point is 5/2 for me.

The play right now may be an interest in Kalashnikov, whose last day win in the Betfair Hurdle is the best form in the race. His prior defeat to Summerville Boy does raise a question mark over extremely testing conditions, though it was a very wet day at Newbury when he romped in the Betfair.

Summerville Boy is a tricky one to weigh up. His overall form profile is not good enough, but that Tolworth triumph - a Grade 1 - was on heavy and was no fluke. He's a late runner who could pick up the pieces if the jocks in this big field are daft enough to go hard early. Looking at the pace map above, they may just be that. 10/1 is worth a small play in that context.

Bookie concessions aplenty on this race, so shop around.

Best value win bet: Kalashnikov 9/2 (backable down to about 7/2)
Best value each way bet: Summerville Boy 10/1 (unexciting at much shorter than that)

Do shop around!

**

2.10 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 1m 7f 199yds)

Arkle Preview

Some eschatological doom-mongering on socia media about the size of the field here, but the simple fact is that the top three in the market tower over their division and have scared most of the rest off. It would be odds-on that they collectively still serve up a thriller. Keep in mind also that bigger fields in the past six years have produced winners at 1/4, 1/4, 4/6, 8/15 and 8/11 as well as the 33/1 Western Warhorse episode. So let's celebrate a depth of quality unseen in recent renewals over a quantity of fawning acolytes in those coronation processions.

To business. Let's first discount the brace of probable also-rans, Brain Power and Robinshill. Robinshill is a stone and a half inferior to the pick of these on ratings, and pulled up in his only heavy ground chase outing - at Newton Abbot.

Brain Power will be a horse a few try to make a case for, but his case is surely not credible at 10/1. He's shown little aptitude for leaping a fence (one completion in three chase starts) and his only two runs on deeper than good to soft ended in a 20 length beating and a tumble last time. Yes, he was possibly going to make a race of it with Un De Sceaux there but I cannot take that form literally. They are likely to go hard from the start here, and Brain Power's jumping, allied to his lack of form on muddy terrain, is expected to find him out.

Three in with a serious squeak then, and it is actually quite hard to choose between them despite market quotes ranging between 5/4 and 3/1, the point in the triangle being Footpad.

Rated around 157 over hurdles, Willie Mullins' charge has improved to a current mark of 160 over fences in an unbeatean hat-trick to date. That includes two Grade 1 scores, the more recent of which was a five length beating of Petit Mouchoir in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle at Leopardstown. There, the second was awkward at the first and downright clumsy at the second; lucky to survive the latter blunder he was going on again at the finish and ought to be a fitter horse this time. He was also the better horse over hurdles, reaching a peak in that sphere of 164 and finishing a place in front of Footpad when third in last year's Champion Hurdle.

But how soft does Petit Mouchoir want it? The former Mullins inmate was beaten on both starts with the word 'heavy' in the going description and he'll have to bid to break that short losing streak here. Moreover, only one of his five career wins has come on soft ground, and that in a maiden hurdle where he thoroughly outclassed his rivals. I backed him ante post, but the ground has gone against him. I couldn't recommend him at 3/1.

If that pair are the established players, with top class hurdle form in the book, Saint Calvados is a left-field Johnny Come Lately, or perhaps Jean Arrivee En Retard. Whacked by French superstar, De Bon Coeur, on his final Gallic gallop, the son of Saint Des Saints - now trained by Harry Whittington - is, like Footpad, unbeaten in three domestic chase starts. His triple includes a win on heavy and two soft ground scores - no worries on the turf with this chap - and each was in relentless, facile manner.

He is a horse of huge potential so, though an unconventional player arriving as he does without top hurdling form, he looks the main threat to Footpad.

Arkle Pace Map

Arkle Challenge Trophy 2018 Pace Map

Arkle Challenge Trophy 2018 Pace Map

Arkle Tips

This looks like a two horse race between Footpad and Saint Calvados, which is not ideal for me given my main ante-post wager was on Petit Mouchoir. He can still win but he'd be showing by far the best form he's demonstrated on wet ground to achieve that notable victory.

Footpad was a high class hurdler - third in the Triumph Hurdle, fourth in the Champion Hurdle on his two prior Festival visits - but he wasn't out of the top drawer. As such, his 5/4 odds look a little too tight to play.

At 3/1, Saint Calvados has his ground, has so far jumped very well (in running comments for his three UK wins include the statements "jumped well" twice and, most recently, "jumped with elan"), and he should have no problem with the track after a bloodless win at Warwick last time. He only has two pounds to find on ratings and is the least exposed of these: he looks the value play.

Best value win bet: Saint Calvados 3/1 (backable down to 5/2)

**

2.50 Ultimate Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 3m 1f)

Ultima Handicap Chase Preview

I'm deliberately going light on the handicaps. They're not my forte - they're very few people's forte in my experience! - so no point me waffling on. I'll take a small chance with any horse that has big field form, and heavy ground form, and is a lightly raced - perhaps novice - chaser.

On my shortlist in that context are Coo Star Sivola and Ramses De Teillee.

Coo Star Sivola hails from the shrewd and bang-in-form Nick Williams yard, and will be ridden by daughter Lizzie Kelly. Far from hiding his light under a bushel - well, not all of it at least - he ran an attractive fourth to Frodon in a 2m5f handicap chase here in January (heavy ground); and took the whole enchilada on his sole subsequent start, a three miler at Exeter.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Fourth in the Martin Pipe at the Festival last year, off a similar perch, he ought to be bang there, though a top price of 7/1 is hardly pant-wetting value.

Ramses De Teillee is a mudlark of the old school. Five runs on heavy have yielded a form sequence of 21212 mainly in novice and graduation company. Trainer David Pipe is no stranger to Festival handicap success. Indeed, since 2009, he has more such wins than any other trainer - seven from 70 starts, and a small SP profit. Moreover, another eleven - 18 in total - were placed. He'll need to brush up on his jumping in this bigger field, but looks the sort to go well for a proven firm.

There will be no shortage of plot horses and fancies, but rather than muck about I'll take this pair against the rest.

Ultima Handicap Chase Pace Map

Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase Pace Map

Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase Pace Map

Ultima Handicap Chase Tips

Coo Star Sivola has an obvious chance, which has not been missed by the market. Granted luck - never a given in such melting pot contests - he'll be thereabouts. And Ramses De Teillee is a sporting each way play which smacks of a sliver of value.

Best win bet: Coo Star Sivola 6/1 betfair sports, 5/1 general (not much in the way of value)

Best value each way bet: Ramses De Teillee 14/1 general

**

3.30 Unibet Champion Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 87yds)

Champion Hurdle Preview

I previewed this race in January here: 2018 Champion Hurdle Preview

Very little has changed since then, except that Buveur D'Air has shortened and nothing has shown itself to be a credible contender to the retention of that one's crown. He handles heavy ground, has yet to be seriously tested and is bidding for an unbeaten streak of ten in a row.

You'd have to be feeling particularly argumentative to suggest that the chance of Faugheen bouncing back to his very best was anything like a 6/1 shot, or that Wicklow Brave might prevail on his first start since getting off the plane from Oz back in November: he attempted the same feat last year and was a fifteen length 7th. He is one from six on soft ground over hurdles, and outclassed two moderate fields in his heavy ground wins, which were incidentally more than four years ago.

My Tent Or Yours may struggle on the ground and it is just very difficult to make a case for anything in either the each way or 'without the favourite' markets. If there is a joker in the pack - and boy, is he a joker - it could be Yorkhill. Willie shuffled his deck for the umpteenth time with this funny fellow, and the cards said Champion Hurdle. He's reverting to the smaller obstacles after an abortive season over fences and, though absolutely bonkers, he has more talent than most of these.

But this is simply a race to watch and enjoy as, hopefully, a champion lords it over his subjects.

Champion Hurdle Pace Map

2018 Champion Hurdle Pace Map

2018 Champion Hurdle Pace Map

Champion Hurdle Tips

Win or lose, there are few more solid 4/7 shots than Buveur d'Air. So, while you've got to have plenty of sevens to be nicking some fours, he will take a world of beating.

Nothing appeals particular in the novelty markets with imponderables hovering over all of the rest of the field. Indeed the only certainty is that the vast majority simply are not good enough to win this race. Exceptions, on their day, are Faugheen and Yorkhill, though others will argue hollow cases for Melon and Wicklow Brave. Not for me. I'm settling in to watch a champion set about his business.

Most likely winner: Buveur d'Air 4/7 (hard to quantify but he may actually be value at that price, probably more like a 1/3 shot)

**

4.10 OLBG Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 3f 200yds)

Mares' Hurdle Preview

An interesting if somewhat unexciting renewal of the Mares' Hurdle. Reigning champion, Apple's Jade, bids to retain her crown in what looks a shallow heat. Gordon Elliott's mare, formerly with Willie Mullins before the infamous Gigginstown House split, has not been out of the first two in a dozen UK and Irish starts, and arrives here off the back of a five race unbeaten streak which began with victory in the race last term.

She is coming in off the back of a layoff - something which has seen her beaten a couple of times in the past - but it is reasonable to expect she's at peak fitness for her first start of 2018. Apple's Jade is clear top-rated, will have no problem with the ground, and looks hard to beat.

If there is a chink in her armour, it could be a contested pace: Benie Des Dieux, representing AJ's former employers, is expected to be gunned under Ruby, and La Bague Au Roi, arguably the only other danger in the race, also likes to be on the speed. In fairness, Apple's Jade does not need to lead, she just likes to, so if having to rate close up, that ought to be fine.

The only other question mark is whether anything is capable of running to a high 150's rating which is presumed to be required. La Bague Au Roi got her career high rating for an impressive demolition job over three miles on soft ground last time. Although she's been versatile as regards trip, that longer range has shown her in the best light to date, and whether she could go with two equally strong stayers who have more demonstrable Graded speed in their form profiles I'm not sure.

Benie Des Dieux is a bit of a strange one. Nothing in her form says she should be 7/2 for a race like this. Of course, the Mullins stable would have had other options and that is somewhat of a tip in itself... until you consider the other options. Let's Dance is a stone below Apple's Jade and was about the pick of the rest. Mullins' other runner here, presumed a social starter, is a 66/1 poke.

Anyway, this mare has raced over fences in her last three starts since being acquired from France, a trio that takes in a beginners' chase and a pair of Listed contests, at Carlisle and Naas. Not exactly going to get AJ quaking in her shoes. Clearly there's more to come from Benie, but she's a horrible price on what she's achieved even allowing that she could step forward seven pounds switching back to hurdles. By the way, switching back to hurdles is not a great Festival tactic: in Grade 1 hurdles at the Fez, such runners are 0 from 17, one place, since 2005. Most were bigger prices, granted, but they were all whacked.

If you can see one of La Bague Au Roi and Benie Des Dieux out of the frame, then there's a sniff of an each way opportunity. Much the best fit for that bill is Gavin Cromwell's Jer's Girl. No stranger to the ferry over, Jer's Girl has form of 1F2 in Britain, the tumble when going well three out in last year's Mares' Hurdle. That was uncharacteristic - her only failure to complete in 15 career starts - and there is little between her and La Bague Au Roi on Kempton Christmas running. Moreover, Jer's Girl is a dual Grade 1 winner at the 2m4f distance, which cannot be said of either of the two mares between herself and Herself (Apple's Jade). I'm not completely certain she wants it bottomless, but then nor am I convinced she won't cope with it, and 16/1 just looks too big.

Mares' Hurdle Pace Map

Mares' Hurdle 2018 Pace Map

Mares' Hurdle 2018 Pace Map

Mares' Hurdle Tips

I understand that I'm claiming few points for originality on the opening day, but it is really hard to get away from Apple's Jade, especially if, like me, you're struggling to make a case for the second favourite. La Bague Au Roi is an obvious place player at least, but so obvious is she that it has already been factored into her price.

The value each way and/or without Apple's Jade could be Jer's Girl. She's a proven G1 performer who had plenty more to offer when crashing out in this race last year, and there are no flies on her trainer, Gavin Cromwell.

Best win bet: Apple's Jade 4/7 (about right, I'd say)

Best value each way bet: Jer's Girl 16/1 (backable e/w down to about 12/1)

**

4.50 National Hunt Chase (Grade 2, 3m 7f 170yds)

National Hunt Chase Preview

A race which has improved in terms of quality in recent seasons, largely as a result of changes to the conditions of entry. No winner since 2008 has returned bigger than last year's 16/1 victor, Tiger Roll, and seven of the ten winners in that time returned a single figure price. The message is simple: don't get too cute.

Of course, those races weren't run on what is highly likely to be a desperately attritional circuit, with the emphasis deeply on stamina and ability to handle give: the spread on finishers may be fairly low (and still a sell).

It's a race where the better horses have been winning, and where the better jockeys have been steering. My shortlist, then, is Mossback, Rathvinden, Jury Duty, Ms Parfois, No Comment and Sizing Tennessee.

Although I wouldn't want to be too far back, I'd also be wary of backing a front-runner, especially one who can make errors, like ten-year-old Sizing Tennessee. In his defence, when he's been good, he's been very good - as when winning here three back over an extended three miles. It is reasonable to assume he was unsuited to the shorter trips he's encountered since, but that jumping concern is hard to overlook.

Mossback hasn't had a stack of goes just yet, but he's awfully short at 5/1 for one so inexperienced. Lisa O'Neill is an excellent pilot who will likely get a bold sight of her fences from close to the head of affairs but I'm also not sold on this fellow's stamina. At the price, I'll let him beat him, which he might.

The other old boy Rathvinden is interesting. It's anathema to back a horse of double digit age in almost any race at the Festival, still less a novice contest. But the nature of this slugfest should play to a veteran's strengths. We've seen with the victories of 14-year-olds Ratify and Pete The Feat last weekend that testing conditions allow maturity, ahem, to come to the fore.

Rathvinden was taken off his feet, literally, over two and a half in Grade 1 company last time, and this slower meter should be more agreeable. He has stamina to prove and isn't an enormous price for that, but he's just about playable.

Talking of price, there is almost nothing to dislike about Jury Duty except his cramped odds. 9/2 may look poor value, but when he wins at 3/1 - as he very well might - we'll be happy enough with the 50% premium. This chap jumps, stays, has the best jockey and arguably the best form and, if avoiding mishap while waited with out back far from the madding crowd on the front, he may prove irresistible approaching the last.

I have had a small bet at 20/1 on Ms Parfois, representing the brilliant Anthony Honeyball yard. She is a bold-jumping, strong-staying, course-winning mare who gets an allowance from the lads and who has a solid enough amateur. The yard's form is a bit of a worry right now, though. No matter, I won't be cheering a horse as much as this one all day.

Talking of yards out of form, it's been a season to forget for the excellent Philip Hobbs. Talk of that stable emerging from the doldrums appear premature, a 9% 90-day strike rate having slumped to a 7% 30-day strike rate. No Comment is too short with that in mind. Further, this will be only the second time the horse has jumped a fence in public. As plots go this is a thick one where 7/1 is readily passable.

The rest ought not to be good enough.

National Hunt Chase Pace Map

National Hunt Chase 2018: Pace Map

National Hunt Chase 2018: Pace Map

National Hunt Chase Tips

The market has this sewn up, by the looks of things. That said, with so little proven marathon form, there is the scope for a shock: it's just that it would be hard to guess from where that might emerge.

In the circumstances, I do like the stalking profile of Jury Duty, even at a short price (there are less in this with a chance than the number lining up might imply). And I think Rathvinden is interesting also, if an unsexy price. I'll reserve the biggest cheer for Ms Parfois, though that is personal loyalties rather than especially punting prejudice, a couple of quid at a tidy price notwithstanding.

Best value win bet: Jury Duty 5/1 Unibet, 888sport (backable down to 4/1)

Best alternative: Rathvinden 15/2 betfair sports (wouldn't want to take much shorter)

**

5.30 Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase (Listed, 2m 4f 78yds)

Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase Preview

Another handicap and another race where I will be unapologetically (and perhaps mercifully for those who have soldiered this far) brief. As with all such races at the Festival, it's a contest full of improvers, lurkers, ex-jobbers and Graded wolves in 'cap sheep's clothing. In other words, it redefines precarious punting.

De Plotting Shed is an obvious place to start. He arrives here seven pounds below his hurdle rating, which is a good start; and he's trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Davy Russell. That's an excellent set of connections. He'll handle the ground and was good enough to be fourth in the Punchestown Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1) last April. He is likely to run well, with a price which fully reflects that.

Three heavy houmds off the tee for me then, as follows:

Testify has been to Haydock what molten lava is to the sloping side of a volcano, rolling slowly but inexorably to victory the last twice in hock-deep mud. He has all the weight here, but is only eight runs (five wins) into a career which has been characterized recently by a unbeaten hat-trick since going chasing. There's a good chance he'll bid to make all - see pace map below - and at least that'll keep him out of trouble.

Another on a winning roll is Barney Dwan, whose 148 hurdling peak is five pounds higher than his current 143 over fences - he was actually dropped two pounds for a recent five length win! He handles heavy and receives the services of the excellent Noel Fehily for an upwardly mobile trainer in Fergal O'Brien. I'm not entirely convinced he wants it really heavy, but he has won on it albeit when he may have just been a lot better than his opposition.

A former Grade 1-winning hurdler who loves heavy ground is Le Rocher. That top class score came in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle, on heavy, and he backed that up when winning the G2 Finesse Hurdle on Cheltenham Trials Day that same season, also on heavy. Overall on heavy ground, his form reads 1117113. He probably doesn't have as much up his sleeve as some - basically racing off the same mark as his peak hurdles figure - but the trip and ground are optimal and he's 25/1.

Naturally, pretty much everything else has some sort of chance, and you don't need me to tell you that.

Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase Pace Map

Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase 2018 pace map

Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase 2018 pace map

Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase Tips

I couldn't put anyone off De Plotting Shed whose chance is as clear as his position in the market. But, at bigger prices, I quite like Testify and, especially, Le Rocher, the latter looking much too big at 25/1. Barney Dwan is interesting, too, but his price perhaps doesn't fully recognise a reservation about testing turf.

Best win bet: De Plotting Shed 13/2

Alternative: Testify 14/1

Best value each way bet: Le Rocher 25/1

**

And that's Tuesday's card as I see it. What's your best bet? Leave a comment below and let us know what you'll be backing...

Matt

London Racing Club Cheltenham Festival 2018 Preview Night Notes

It was to a packed house at London's Kensington Forum that a star-studded cast delivered their verdicts on the impending Cheltenham Festival. With no punches pulled, opinions were as strong as they were plentiful. What follows is a summary of the action...

Panel: Lee Mottershead, Racing Post senior correspondent (host); Phil Smith, BHA head of handicapping; Matt Tombs, author Cheltenham Festival Trends guide; Lydia Hislop, freelance writer/broadcaster RUK; and, Luke Tarr, Starsports bookmaker.

Tuesday

Supreme Novices' Hurdle

MT: Getabird may drift from his current price. Not worth the price on form. Stablemate Sharjah is worth a look on quicker ground.

LT: Getabird a horrendous price. 16/1 First Flow could be a bit of value.

LH: Summerville Boy, who beat Kalashnikov, is twice the price; and First Flow quite likely to shorten from his current odds.

PS: Kalashnikov top rated currently on 154, Getabird 152

Arkle Chase

LH: Not touching the race. Footpad a legitimate favourite, but Saint Calvados may be the best bet. (But no bet!)

MT: Petit Mouchoir, just, but reasons for concern, including how warm he gets before some of his races (including at the Festival last year)

LT: No star going in here, hopefully one comes out of it. Big Saint Calvados fan but the price has gone now.

PS: 170, 169, 168 recent Arkle winners' season ending figures. Footpad currently 162, Saint Calvados 160, Petit Mouchoir 157. Which of these can improve to the mid- to high 160's?

CHAMPION HURDLE

PS: Have to be impressed with what Buveur d'Air has done. 169 currently, which is an average Champion Hurdle figure, but he's been coasting around untested, and could get to the mid-170's. Faugheen was 176 a year ago but nothing like that this term. Ran to 167 on first/best run of the season.

MT: Lay Yorkhill for a place. Melon could be the each way play.

LH: Not as good as he was but at the prices Faugheen is one of only two class horses in the race, and he's 6/1.

LT: Buveur d'Air is much the best. Faugheen not an e/w proposition, but win only ("he either wins, or you only do your money once - don't do it twice"). There has been money for Wicklow Brave e/w and without the favourite.

Mares' Hurdle

LH: Benie Des Dieux outstandingly the number one Mullins horse in the race.

Best Backed / other thoughts on Tuesday

LT: Coo Star Sivola strong at around 8/1 for the Ultima. Benie Des Dieux in the Mares' Hurdle, and Jury Duty in the National Hunt Chase have also seen support.

MT: Any Second Now in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase is the best handicap bet of the day.

PS: In the handicaps generally, look for horses that have been running over a different trip, perhaps on different ground, and in chases look for those with a higher hurdle rating than their current chase mark.

**

Wednesday

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

LT: Samcro very short on what he's actually done. Black Op looks a good each way bet.

MT: Speed horses do well in this race. Samcro fits in that context but Black Op is a good option also at a nice price.

PS: Samcro 155 On The Blind Side 153 Black Op 150 Next Destination 150 currently. All four horses are already at the level needed to win an average renewal. Perhaps Black Op is the one at the prices.

LH: On The Blind Side may have worked poorly (if you listen to preview night 'yack'). Duc Des Genievres was closing on Samcro last time and there may not be much between them. Black Op could run well. Vision Des Flos is the horse expected to shorten in the market for this race.

RSA Chase

Your first 30 days for just £1

LT: Solid favourite in Presenting Percy

LH: Presenting Percy an unexciting price but a worthy favourite.

MT: Flogas the key trial. Monalee is a good horse but he's been keen in his races. Al Boum Photo will get Ruby Walsh on top in this and looks a knocking each way bet at 10/1.

PS: A decent race this year which will probably take a 160+ performance to win. Presenting Percy currently top on 158, Monalee 155.

CHAMPION CHASE

PS: Altior 174, Douvan 174, Min 167, Politologue 163, Special Tiara 160. Highly questionable whether Douvan can get close to that mark.

MT: Not worried about the 'bounce' with Altior. He only had a minor wind operation. There are no worries about him and he looks hard to oppose. But the market has this sewn up.

LH: Don't believe Douvan will run. Min a different (better) horse when not leading. Altior did run below his best despite winning in the Arkle last year. Would still back Min at 5/2 (but already backed/advised it at 8/1).

LT: Douvan has no chance of running at the Festival! Altior is the best horse and think he'll win. Charbel 20/1 e/w NRNB interesting (he may run in the Grand Annual).

Cross Country Chase

MT: Cause Of Causes NAP of the week at 3/1

LH: Tiger Roll much the best backed, 9/1 into 5/1.

PS: The Last Samuri is top rated, but Tiger Roll had a very similar 'never in it' prep this year to Cause Of Cause's last year for the same connections. Look at this race as a decent trial for the Grand National.

Other Wednesday thoughts

LH: Look out for either Malaya or Act Of Valour in the Fred Winter (both Paul Nicholls)

**

Thursday

RYANAIR CHASE

MT: 5/1 Douvan NRNB a great bet. Much shorter if he runs, which he probably won't. Waiting Patiently has a right chance if he shows up.

PS: Waiting Patiently 170, Un De Sceaux 167.

LT: Love this race. Don't think Waiting Patiently, Min or Douvan will run. Balko Des Flos is interesting e/w.

LH: Cue Card is still Grade 1 class. Waiting Patiently might be stretched if soft, Yorkhill would be interesting if showing up here. The race baffles me. Wait for the day of race market.

STAYERS' HURDLE

LH: Yanworth is opposable at the price. Sam Spinner should be favourite over Supersundae, and might get an easy lead. Supersundae stamina an unknown rather than a negative, but he's short enough at the prices. The World's End is too big a price if it's a sound surface.

PS: A terrible renewal. Supersundae 164 Sam Spinner 164 Yanworth 163 Unowhatimeanharry 163 The New One 161 La Bague Au Roi. It normally takes a near 170 performance to win. Unowhatimeanharry has run to 161 and is working really well apparently.

MT: Sam Spinner "much the most likely winner". 9/2 a really good bet.

LT: unowhatimeanharry is the wrong price.

Other Thursday action

PS: Look to the novices in the Brown Advisory Plate.

MT: Monalee may switch to the JLT, which would make 7/2 NRNB a good bet.

LH: Mall Dini in the Kim Muir.

**

GOLD CUP

PS: Might Bite 169 but there are lots within three or four pounds of each other. "I think Might Bite is much better than these". Not sure Killultagh Vic would have beaten Edwulf if not falling last time. 8/1 vs 20/1 looks wrong.

MT: Might Bite a great price at 7/2. The value in this race is with the top of the market normally: 15 of the last 17 winners came from the top three in the betting; 16/17 were 8/1 or shorter.

LH: Djakadam is looking to replicate The Fellow's form figures in the race of 2241 and is over-priced (Lydia an infamously big Djakadam fan!). Native River is sold e/w. Not sure Road To Respect will stay and/or like soft ground. Killultagh Vic's jumping is "appalling". Our Duke is the 'now' horse but makes mistakes with his jumping, too.

Triumph Hurdle

MT: Most impressed by Redicean, may challenge for favouritism.

LT: No idea. This is an impossible race.

LH: No strong view. Apple's Shakira looks vulnerable but there are lots of alternatives.

PS: Redicean is 149, but Apple's Shakira 153 with the mares' allowance.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle

LH: Thanks to Tony Keenan for pointing out that lots of experience in this race is a good thing. Chef Des Obeaux and Poetic Rhythm, and perhaps Callett Mad, are the sort that win.

PS: Santini 150 but lots on similar ratings.

MT: Demand a price in a race that throws up shocks. Callett Mad a player.

Other Friday action

LH: Expect improvement from Diego Du Charmil in the Grand Annual.

MT: Deal d'Estruval for either the County Hurdle or the Martin Pipe NRNB. Dortmund Park in the Martin Pipe if quick ground, on which he should improve.

PS: Burning Ambition is top rated in the Foxhunters'.

**

Best Bets

LH: Poetic Rhythm (Albert Bartlett) and/or Diego Du Charmil (Grand Annual)

MT: Sam Spinner in the Stayers' Hurdle

PS: An each way double on Definitly Red in the Gold Cup and Definitly Red in the Grand National (*tongue was in cheek a little here, I suspect).

 

The Ultimate Cheltenham Festival Q&A

It's the Cheltenham Festival, and everyone has an opinion about the action about to unfold. But, no offence, not all opinions are formed equally...

Anyway, regardless of whether yours is a voice worth listening to or not, I put a call out to an ultimate 'brains trust' and they graciously rallied to the cause.

I really don't know where to start with this collective...

There's a five time newspaper naps champion, two revered national newspaper tipsters, three heads of racing trading for major bookmakers, two top class Racing UK broadcasters, the founding author of the Weatherby's Cheltenham Festival Guide, and one of the most respected time-based pundits in Britain. Phew!

As if that wasn't enough, I've also got four of geegeez.co.uk's finest to chime in. So, five questions, and here are the generous, and insightful, answers of those great and good of the game…

What is your Festival betting modus operandi? Many bets, or selective? Value in the shorties, or the longer grass?

Chris Cook, journalist/tipster for The Guardian (CC):

I bet when I form a strong view that the odds are wrong. That leads to quite a few bets at Cheltenham because, like the rest of us, I've been thinking about these horses and these races for months. I'm not averse to backing favourites but it's more fun to find horses that have been overlooked for no good reason. 

Simon Rowlands, freelance journalist for Timeform, ATR, Irish Field (SR):
This has changed over time. I used to back and/or lay pretty much every horse in every race, particularly in the place markets, according to my tissue.

But I spend less time betting/compiling a tissue and more time writing these days so am obliged to be more selective: maybe three or four bets a day. A lot of my bets are in the 3/1 to 12/1 area, but sometimes longer for ante-post.

Sam Turner, tipster Robin Goodfellow for the Daily Mail, RUK broadcaster (ST):
I don’t pretend to know the maths but playing at short prices during one of the most competitive week’s racing of the year doesn’t appear a wise strategy. As I’ve got older I have played less and less at the short end of the market because I don’t like feeling a fool - that happens all too regularly in life already!

Having a chunk on a horse at a thin price which is beaten grinds my gears more than any 10-1 loser I’ve backed so I tend to steer clear of putting myself in that position. There are obviously occasions when a bettor feels compelled to bet at a short price as they may have the horse in question miles clear on their ratings or they believe it to be a superstar etc. I wouldn’t knock anyone for wanting to feel the ball on the bat occasionally and back a horse which they believe only has to go down to post and come back in one piece to draw.

However, statistics and common sense tell us how difficult it is to make the game pay playing day in and day out at short prices, and an even money winner is only ever really buying you a ticket to bet in the next race. I prefer to take a chance in races which offer a better rate of reward if, on the off chance, I may actually be proved correct!

It is a cliché, but any horse can win any race, you only have to look at the SPs of some of the Gold Cup winners in the last 30 years, so I prefer to look for chinks in the make up of the market leaders and if I can’t find one then I won’t play unless there is enough juice in an outsider to make it worthwhile.

Andy Richmond, full time punter and RUK writer/broadcaster (AR):

It’s easy to get sucked in by the buzz around the Festival and get tempted to play in every race but I find that I’m relatively more selective than that and like to pick my battles at Cheltenham. I’ve never really been a player at short prices (it doesn’t suit my mentality) although I can see the “value” argument in backing some of them. I’d rather play in the longer grass (or perhaps the rough) as you put it and find some at longer prices particularly in the handicaps. I’ll also be looking to play in-running quite a lot based on all the information that I have about the run styles and traits of horses.

Tony Calvin, freelance journalist for Betfair, RUK (TC):

One of the aspects of Cheltenham that I find very amusing is people suddenly trot out advice on “How To bet at the Festival”, as if it is different to punting on everything else for the rest of the year. It’s bollocks. Do your homework, identify the horses that are overpriced, and try to get the best odds, allied to the best place terms. The latter is easier said than done, mind you.

Paul Jones, former editor of Weatherby’s Cheltenham Festival Guide, author, ‘From Soba To Moldova’ (PJo):

About 35-40 bets, mainly antepost so value hunting. 

Tony Keenan, geegeez.co.uk and Betfair blogger, Final Furlong podcast contributor (TK):

I’m open to anything really. For one reason and another, I did very little ante-post before February with about four bets, three of which aren’t running, typically! That may be no disadvantage and I’ve ramped things up a bit the past few weeks with the ‘snow days’ helping in a big way. Over the weekend and since I’ve had about 20 bets and will have more this week.

I have no issue with betting two or three in a race at reasonable prices and while I haven’t bet on any of the favourites yet that’s not to say I won’t; none of them, bar Might Bite, make huge appeal at present but they won’t be the same price next week and that could change things.

A lot has been made of waiting for the day and seeing what the ground is like and having the extra place offers available but I’m not waiting if I can bet something now at 14/1 that’s going off 8/1 on the day. The edge there is too much to hold off for an extra place that will likely be at a fifth the odds anyway; many good judges reckon a quarter the odds the first four is better value anyway. 

Paul Jacobs, five-time newspaper naps champion, and broadcaster (PJa):

I mainly like to bet ante-post. I understand it is the preference of very few but grabbing the value and laying back on the exchanges for the minimum of a free bet is the way I like to play.

I love to lay short price favourites (see below) and laying them for a place as well as the win has often been a profitable avenue to go down.

I think the handicaps are terribly difficult at all the big festivals, but that is more than made up for by the deep liquidity available 48 hours beforehand on the exchanges, they embarrass the fixed odds bookmakers to the max and crucially will never refuse your wager!

My traditional way of betting is to rarely run with the herd. I was on a couple of festival panel previews and was gobsmacked at the selections/views of certain members. Remember if the herd is always right, then there would be no bookmakers to take our bets. It's a huge generalisation, but the theory holds true.

Chris Worrall, Mr Stat of the Day (CW):
Take each race as separate entities, find something I like and if I’m happy with the price : back it. If not, leave it! A fairly simplistic/obvious approach, but one that suits my way of “working”. I don’t feel nor advocate the need to have a punt in every race.

‘Ronnie’ Whelan, Head of Trading, Skybet (RW):

My normal MO is to look for the longer priced horses but I won’t be frightened getting stuck into some short ones if they look like value. The main thing for me is to be flexible and not be frightened to change my mind. I remember one year, I was going into the festival thinking I was going to take on some of the favourites in the big races but by race day they looked better value than I was expecting and ended up backing some of them.

Ian Marmion, Trading Director, BetStars (IM):
If the favourites win, I’ll be behind on the week. I’ll throw plenty of darts at bigger prices and am likely to be shouting for a couple or three in every race.

Chris Poole, Head of Trading, BetVictor (CP):

I treat Cheltenham races like any race, if I think something is too big I will play it whether that’s 4/5 about something I think should be 4/7 or a bet at bigger prices. I don’t give myself price restrictions but obviously it’s hard lumping on favourites that my employer has laid for fortunes! I don’t have a number of bets in mind at the start of the week, but would be in excess of 20 on the week I would imagine.

Rory Delargy, freelance journalist at Irish Field, William Hill Radio (RD):
I love to try and unpick the handicaps from when the weights are released, but that is a decidedly masochistic approach, and there is no doubt that it's easier to make money by concentrating on the Grade 1 events where the merits of the runners are more easily established.

Andy Newton, Mr TV Trends (AN):
It’s the Cheltenham Festival, so, as we all know, a lot of the discipline can often got out of the window here. Being I’ll be there it’s hard not to have some sort of an interest in most of the races – no matter what the betting market is saying – and even in the races with the hot-pots in, there’s always a bet to be had!

I like to have a few trebles and accas before the action starts, especially once the NRNB offers are in place. Yes, we all know not all the shorties will win, but there is a good chance 60-70% of them will, so it’s just finding those. If you get lucky and the first few in your accas go in, then this also gives many trading out opportunities too.

Oh, I will always try a placepot each day: the pool size is always massive and it’s a bet that can give you an interest in 6 of the 7 races each day.

Nige Keeling, geegeez.co.uk’s resident news and weekend preview guy (NK):
Several £1 Lucky 15s (not for everyone I realise) perming 3 bankers (Altior, Buveur D'Air and Apples Jade this year) with several others, including Getabird, Cause Of Causes and Laurina. Sounds obvious but follow Mullins, Henderson in Championship races - Elliott/Russell in handicaps. Keep an eye on De Bromhead chasers.

 

Which shortie(s) are you keenest to take on?

CC: If the rain doesn't come, conditions will be different for Getabird and perhaps he might be vulnerable in the Supreme. Presenting Percy looks a bit short in the RSA, so long as Monalee isn't diverted into the JLT. 

SR: I have laid Samcro for the Ballymore and Politologue for a place in the Champion Chase. Laying shorties has tended to be a reasonable policy at the Cheltenham Festival over the years.

ST: I think the lads at Timeform produced a stat that 106 horses have undergone the same Cheltenham preparation as Altior - ie absent from the track for nearly a year, one prep run then on to a Championship race - and only one has won. Those keen to put the fork into Altior on the back of that research should remember the sole winner which defied the statistic was Riverside Theatre trained by Nicky Henderson so it obviously can be done by a master trainer, but at 8-11 or 4-6 I would rather not pay to find out.

AR: I suppose it depends on your definition of “shorty” but of those likely to start at 2/1 or less then the one that I would be keenest to take on would be Getabird in the Supreme. The race has more depth than the betting suggests and he looks a little short on experience over hurdles for a race of this nature.

TC: I never bet short on horseracing – though I am happy to play at 10-11 on rugby handicap lines – and my pet hate is reading an article or watching TV where the people involved tip every single favourite, especially when they make no reference to the price. And, believe me, some tip every single favourite and take the short-term route and take their audience for idiots. It’s excruciating. What that normally tells me is that they haven’t done their homework. But, back to the question. I’m keen to take on most, if not all, of the favourites in some way, most obviously each-way or without.  I can’t see Apple’s Jade getting beaten in the Mares, but no way would I back her at 4/6. No thanks.

PJo: Getabird is the only shortie I want to take on of those under 5/2.

TK: Them all, probably! I want to take on Footpad, Altior and Apple’s Shakira but that’s not because of any huge flaw in them; they merit their position at the head of the market but I just prefer their rivals with Petit Mouchoir, Min and Mr Adjudicator/We Have A Dream all reasonable prices.

I’m not really keen to take on Buveur D’Air or Apple’s Jade but Might Bite is one I will be looking to back and he has scope to shorten from the 4/1 available now.

PJa: The Ballymore is a graveyard for market leaders, all the way back to the great Denman, turned over at 11/10. I am not saying Samcro cannot win, but he has yet to experience an undulating track of this nature and a race run at a championship pace. On the plus side he is a superbly efficient operator at his obstacles and clearly has a motor, but so did Neon Wolf, Yanworth (jockey error), Nichols Canyon, Pont Alexandre, So Young, Rite of Passage and Aran Concerto along with Denman - all beaten fav’s in this race.

I am also critical of the respective prices of Buveur d'Air and Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle. On my private ratings the winning run of Faugheen in the Morgiana is the equivalent of or better than anything the champion has run to in the past 24 months, yet one is 8/15 and the other a top priced 13/2.

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Of course, you have to forgive 'The Machine' two below par efforts, but if Mullins has him back in the same form as his Punchestown demolition job then 13/2 is a wholesome bet to nothing each-way.

CW: If I had to pick one of the “superstars” to be overturned or who I don’t think offers enough value right now, it’s probably Altior.

RW: Keen to be against Getabird as think the race is more competitive than the betting suggests. Although not a super shortie, I think Apples Shakira is too short for the Triumph at 7/2. Looks to be a host of good juveniles against her.

IM: Ultimately it will depend on what price they end up on the day but, assuming current prices prevail, Buveur D’Air and Apples Jade are the two that look bombproof. I’d be keen to have all the others as good losers.

CP: I don’t think Getabird has done enough to be so short in the Supreme and Un De Sceaux is far from bombproof in the Ryanair. I would have put Laurina (Mares’ Novices’) in the mix but the right people have been backing her down from evens!

RD: I'm fairly neutral on the really skinny ones, but would be against the likes of Grade 1 favourites Sam Spinner and Santini. I actually like both horses a lot, but I think they may struggle from an experience point of view, and the Albert Bartlett, in particular, is a race which favours those with a lot of previous practice. I'm getting colder on Might Bite by the day, too, but am struggling for a solid alternative, at least until I get a thunderbolt on Friday morning.

AN: With quite a few this year, there are plenty of options. I’m not too keen on Getabird in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – the opening race of the Festival. I was at a preview night recently and spoke to Rich Ricci (name drop) beforehand and, although he likes the horse a lot, I got the impression he thought his lack of experience might find him out. Yes, they have a cracking record in the race, but with only two runs over hurdles he might just be one of those horses that turns out to be the best in the race – but in time. Don’t forget, Sprinter Sacre was third in this race and look what he went onto do!

NK: I'll be taking on Samcro (On The Blind Side and Next Destination - Henderson and Mullins) and Footpad (Petit Mouchoir - De Bromhead).

 

What’s your idea of the best value bet at this stage?

CC: The 8-1 about Tully East for the Plate is pretty good, though that's a race where I like to find something at an each-way price once the final field is known. Cause Of Causes at 11-4 for the cross-country is bigger than I would care to lay. 

SR: Native River is a good each-way bet in the Cheltenham Gold Cup; Sam Spinner should be shorter than he is now in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

ST: Samcro clearly looks a special talent, but the brightness of his star appears to have blinded some. I may well be searching for the cream to accompany my humble pie after the running of the Ballymore but I don’t believe Samcro is a five-times superior horse to Next Destination so at 5-1 or bigger I will be backing the Mullins beast each-way.

AR: Couple that I tend to think have been rather forgotten about in their respective races are Rathvinden (NH Chase) and Kemboy (JLT). The former runs in a race that has plenty who are quoted in single figures at the moment but which may have other Festival targets, and as a second-season chaser with plenty of experience he fits the profile of several recent winners of the race. Many will be put off by the fact that he has failed to complete in his last two starts but he’s won a Grade 3 and finished second to Death Duty in the Grade 1 Drinmore. A tough, hardy sort with a good pilot in Patrick Mullins he looks the sort for the four-miler.

Kemboy wasn’t quite up to winning at Graded level over hurdles but he’s looked the part over fences in a couple of outings so far winning well last time out despite giving his supporters a scare at the last. Apart from that he jumped well and is headed to the JLT where I’m surprised to see him still available at around 20/1 in another race where plenty quoted have other targets at the Festival. His trainer Willie Mullins has dominated the race winning the last three races with short price favourites (looks to have another one this year) but Kemboy looks to have been a little forgotten about in my eyes.

TC: I will tell what I have backed, but most have been a while ago, so the prices have largely gone. All are NRNB, bar my exchange win-only bets on the same horses, obviously.

Tue: I am on Wicklow Brave each-way and without the favourite in the Champion Hurdle; Paloma Blue NRNB each-way in the Supreme.

Wed: Duke Des Genievres EW in Ballymore; Dounikos EW in RSA, and I have been backing Special Tiara everywhere since his third to Min in the Dublin Chase, I expect to be shafted by soft ground there, though.

Thu:  I am on Balko Des Flos and Penhill small in the Ryanair and Stayers respectively.

Fri:   I have had a fair old pop at Djakadam win-only on Betfair, and at 33s NRNB for the Gold Cup. Talk of his demise is premature I feel, and expect some headgear on when we next see him.

PJo: Edwulf each way at 25/1 for the Gold Cup.

TK: I don’t have a standout value bet at this stage and have instead just been tipping away at level stakes with most of my bets. The Bigmartre/Terrefort combo in the JLT looks a reasonable bet especially with that race looking likely to cut up.

PJa: I have been waiting for Bacardys to step up to three miles and always believed he would be aimed at the RSA, but his fencing has been somewhat erratic in two novice events. With a fast pace assured in the Stayers Hurdle on soft ground and so many doubtful stayers in the prevailing ground, headed by Supersundae, he looks a live-wire each-way play at a double figure price.

CW: Hmm, this is tough, but I’d probably side with Black Corton at around 8/1. However, in keeping with thinking Altior might not perform as expected, there are a couple of 16/1 e/w shots in the Champion Chase : Great Field & Special Tiara.

RW: Although it has been getting shorter because of the recent weather I like Summerville Boy in the Skybet Supreme. Also, although it could go for the Ballymore I think White Moon at the general 25/1 is a bigger price than it should be for the Albert Bartlett.

IM: I think the 10/1 about Politologue for the Queen Mother is nap each way material. He was firmly put in his place by Altior last time but he didn’t like front running and Nicholls’ horses were in dreadful form at the time.

CP: I like Ballyoptic at a price in the RSA: I know he has been disappointing at times this season, notably at Kempton over Christmas; but he was a 160+ hurdler at best, stays very well and looked far more professional at Wetherby recently. I have doubts about a few of the lower priced runners.   I also think Apples Jade is an absolute moral in the Mares’ and over-eager firms on day one may make her as big as 4/5, which is massive value despite being odds on.

RD: Value is subjective given the state of the market and the NRNB concessions. I'd fancy Apple's Jade in whatever race she runs in, as long as it's not the one she's being aimed at, while her stablemate Shattered Love is a big price in the JLT given she's got the nod and has both a brilliant attitude and form in the book. She ran a stinker last year, but I hope that was ground related, and she's matured noticeably since.

AN: Barring accidents, I think we can all agree that Buveur D’Air will win the Champion Hurdle. OK, of course, he’s not going to be a value bet in most people’s eyes, but another horse in his race can be. His stablemate MY TENT OR YOURS (place only market) looks a cracking option to place and despite the favourite being in several accas I’ll also be having a place bet on My Tent Or Yours here.

Yes, My Tent Or Yours is now an 11 year-old, but Henderson will have him primed to the max for one last big run. Let’s also remind ourselves he’s been second in this race a staggering three times, while his overall Festival record reads 2-2-2-2 after also running second in the 2013 Supreme Novices’.

Let us also remind ourselves he’s raced 20 times over hurdles and been placed in the top three a massive 19 times!! That’s a staggering 95% strike-rate of running third or better in his 20 career hurdles races!!!

NK: Flying Tiger 16/1 County Hurdle

 

Is there a handicap lurker you have your eye on? If so, what?

CC: Viconte Du Noyer (33/1) is a big price for the three-miler on Tuesday. I think things have conspired against him this season. If he gets back to the best of his form from last season, he's got a right chance. 

SR: Sorry, but I have not looked at the handicaps yet. That is one area in which I try to keep my mind clear and study when the 48-hour declarations (an excellent initiative!) are known.

ST: I will be interested to see if Gordon Elliott allows The Storyteller to take his chance in one of the handicaps as he caught the eye in the Flogas Chase at Leopardstown – a race which could well produce a couple of Festival winners this year. Sire Du Berlais could also be an interesting one from the same stable now he has been confirmed for the Martin Pipe [Gordon Elliott’s boss back in the day].

AR: There are plenty of those although some may have been over plotted and will struggle to get into their respective races with the “qualifying” weight getting higher and higher in Festival handicaps.

Of the few that I’m keen on in handicaps perhaps the two most interesting are Malaya for Paul Nicholls in the Fred Winter and Whiskey Sour for Willie Mullins in the Martin Pipe. Both those respective yards have good records in those races with Malaya finishing a good second to Redicean last time out in the Adonis and Nicholls has won this with similar types before.

Mullins actually has 15 entries in the Marin Pipe so guessing which of his will run is hard enough but Whiskey Sour looks to be one that fits his modus operandi in the race having won it in the past with strong stayers in Don Poli, Sir Des Champs and Killultagh Vic. A strong and useful stayer on the Flat he was lucky to win a Grade 1 at Leopardstown but his 4th to Samcro in the Deloitte Hurdle reads well and like many of the Irish winners he will be making his handicap debut with the longer trip sure to suit.

TC: I think another Cheltenham “failing” in people is they make hard and fast decisions too far out, without knowing the ground, opposition, pace, to name just three things. So, while you can think a horse is well treated, on balance I think you should wait, unless the price is bang wrong (as it was when Coo Star Sivoila was 25/1 in one place for the Ultima after his Exeter win). Thus, I haven’t really had a good look at the handicaps. But Snow Falcon, entered in four races, interests me off a chase mark of 149 if they go down the handicap route.

PJo: Rather Be (10/1) in the novices’ handicap chase on the opening day.

TK: Despite snow delaying play, I haven’t gotten to all the handicaps yet but I like Any Second Now in the novice handicap chase on Tuesday. On his four chase runs, he’s been placed behind Monalee, Invitation Only and Footpad, all of whom are among the favourites for their respective Grade 1s. He’s a graded novice in a handicap and this step up in trip should suit him.

PJa: I wanted to be on the right side of Tobefair in the Pertemps, but I have just found out he is a non-runner, so I need to do more investigation re-handicaps.

CW: A lurker? If 14/1 or so is classed as a lurker in these competitive events, then I’d suggest Kalondra in the Close Brothers Chase. If I was to look at something longer from an E/W perspective, then I’d suggest Les Arcaux in the Fred Winter.

RW: I wouldn’t describe it as a lurker but like the look of Mister Whitaker in the Brown Advisory Plate. A bit more of a lurker, (although I have no idea if this is De Bromhead’s plan!) is Avenir d’Une Vie in the Grand Annual. It looks well handicapped if it can cope with the hustle and bustle of the race.

IM: I thought Mohaayed ran very well for Dan and Harry Skelton in the County Hurdle last year. He ran poorly in the Greatwood on winter ground in November but started 7/1 that day. On Spring ground – even if it’s soft – and off only a 2 pound higher mark I can see him outrunning his 33/1 odds.

CP: Currently needs plenty to come out, but Diese Des Bieffes looks very well in to me in the Martin Pipe. The Lanzarote was red hot this year and is up only 2lb for a solid 5th. I’d imagine the excellent Mitchell Bastyan will keep the ride.

RD: I've had my eye on Mall Dini all year, and still believe he ought to have won the Kim Muir last year. He's been primed for a repeat and has taken the eye on all outings for Pat Kelly this winter. He gets in this year's race on last year's mark, and Kelly doesn't miss the target often.

AN: A horse on the opening day I like the look of is the Paul Nicholls-trained Movewiththetimes in the Close Brothers Novices Handicap. The Nicholls camp took this race in 2009 with a horse called Chapoturgeon so know what’s needed, while it’s also a contest top owner JP McManus loves to target – he’s had a winner, 2 seconds and a third in recent years. This horse gets in with a mark of 142, which looks fair to me, but more importantly he’s got plenty of experience of the Cheltenham fences – in fact, all of his three chase runs have been here! Ok, he’s yet to win over fences, but he’s run well to be 4th, 2nd and 3rd behind the likes of North Hill Harvey, Finian’s Oscar and Kalondra.

NK: If Minella Daddy gets in the Ultima, he's on a tasty mark. Currently 25/1 (soft ground a plus - Flemensfirth).

 

Can you offer one piece of advice for betting at the Festival?

CC: As ever, don't bet more than you can afford to lose and make sure you've got enough left by the end of the week for a long-range shot at the Grand National!

SR: Play to your strengths, as with all betting, and remember it is perfectly possible to enjoy top-quality racing without feeling obliged to have a bet.

ST: I worked out recently that I’d been visiting the Festival for 30 years and it is no exaggeration to say there has been a fair amount of change in that period. While the day-to-day landscape for bettors can be tricky with restrictions and account closures, Cheltenham offers the opportunity to return to a time long gone as firms crave our business for four days before pulling the shutters down once more.

Extra places, a quarter the odds all races, best odds guaranteed and money back offers are all on the table to tempt us . . . and so they should!

I am not advocating a gung-ho, scattergun approach, but these four days offer us bettors a major chance for life-changing bets to be landed and, to whatever stake small or large, it could make sense to group a few horses together across the week in multiple bets.

I like to try and find horses for the multiples which have a decent chance of making the frame without necessarily holding an obvious chance of winning as three to four double-figure placed horses grouped together can produce a terrific yield and, with the extra place terms on offer, this is a realistic target.

For example, a one pound each-way yankee with four 10-1 placed horses at a quarter of the odds returns nearly £400 without a winner - just imagine if you did hit the jackpot! (£21,000 - I'll save you working it out!)

In my humble opinion, for many bettors the daily grind of trying to chisel out a profit month after month can be extremely wearing so there has to be the chance of a big payout to reinvigorate the process.

As we are all aware, these bets are tough to land, but with some selectivity, planning and thought - and the 48-hour declarations will surely help a great deal in that process this year – it can be done, so start plotting!

AR: With so much emphasis on the Festival these days you could spend a large proportion of the day reading, watching and listening to previews, Podcasts and such like and in a way it’s far too easy to make the whole meeting more complicated than it is, and crowd your mind and judgement with too many opinions and facts. So by all means use some of the respected judges as “sounding boards” but try not to devour every piece of information out there, otherwise you will enter the meeting confused and disorganised. Trust your own judgement in effect. 

TC: As per my comments above. Treat it like any other meeting. Don’t deviate from your norm.

PJo: With the more compressed weights these days, look at top half dozen in the weights in the handicaps in the main.

TK: Be flexible in your thinking. There is nothing like the Festival for people getting ingrained ideas in their head but the markets which have been pretty much set for weeks now are going to look different on the morning of race day and by off-time. Changing your mind can be a good thing.

Consider Un De Sceaux in last year’s Ryanair. He had been a solid 7/4 shot in the weeks before the meeting before being available at 3/1 on the morning of the race. The reason – that Willie Mullins would not train a winner in the first two days, despite having Douvan in the Champion Chase – was hard to predict. He was bet back into 7/4 and punters who hadn’t considered backing him going into the meeting got a surprise opportunity to play at a value price.

PJa: The market place has never been stronger with so many bookmakers chasing our buck. They will be throwing themselves at us to grab our shekels so if you are betting on the day take advantage of the introductory offers, each-way best terms and anything else they care to throw our way; they are simply desperate for our hard earned so make them earn it!

CW: Don’t go balls deep on Day 1. It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement and lose your entire betting bank in 3 hrs! The old adage of not being a sprint is fully in operation here. Conversely with proper bank management, 1, 2 or 3 losing days won’t mean you can’t still claw it back on day 4.

PS The caveat here is that I do most of my punting on Class 5/6 sandpigs! 😉

RW: Two pieces of advice! One is to watch back the races from last year’s festival. It is amazing how often your mind plays tricks on you and races and certain performances look a lot different from how you remember them. Secondly, I personally think the handicap hurdles are very hard to crack. I try to leave them alone and concentrate on the Graded races and handicap chases.

IM: Do your business early as that’s where most of the value will be. Don’t be afraid to back a few in each race especially in the big handicaps and keep an eye on the concessions. Extra places are worth their weight in gold!

CP: I would keep a close eye on the “Ante Post” races later in the week which will all be NRNB with every firm by the start of next week. The firms are very wrapped up with the day and often fail to react quickly enough in these later races: ground changes, form lines that are looking stronger or even horses that clearly won’t be running as already declared for another race. For example, I would wager when the declarations come in on Monday for Wednesday’s Ballymore that plenty leave the runners in Friday’s Albert Bartlett betting, even though they’ll be ineligible to run. 

RD: Don't spread your bets evenly over the four days. Tuesday is very punter friendly, while Thursday and Friday can be absolute carnage for even the most clued-up punters. Pick your battles in advance.

AN: Pace yourself – we’ve 28 races to get through over the four days so you don’t want to peak too early. Ok, you said only one bit of advice, but another is not to be afraid of having 4 or 5 bets (if the price allows) in the big handicaps. These days you can get monster prices on the Exchanges with the horses priced 20/1 or bigger, so really these inflated odds give you more leeway to fire a few more darts at the race. Oh, and as you probably know, I love the trends. Cheltenham is a great meeting for trends and stats so be sure to check them out. For example, did you know that the last Champion Hurdle winner aged in double-figures was Sea Pigeon in 1981?

NK: Get busy on Day One. It's the easiest day for backing winners. Don't be afraid of getting on the shorties if you fancy them. Doubles, trebles – perm them together if you like. Go easy on the final day. Notoriously tricky. Half a chance in the Triumph and Gold Cup, the rest a bloodbath!

**

Post Script: Tony Stafford, weekly columnist at geegeez.co.uk and veteran of Fleet Street (also racing manager to Raymond Tooth, whose Punjabi won the 2009 Champion Hurdle), adds his lateral perspective to proceedings:

1 What is my Festival betting modus operandi, many or selective? Value in the shorties, or the longer grass?

When this series of questions goes out on Thursday, March 8, it will be a notable exact 50th anniversary for me. March 8 1968 was the day I first experienced the Festival, travelling down in the car with my dad and a couple of friends including my soon-to-be Best Man. In those days the Supreme was known as the Gloucestershire Hurdle and run in two divisions.

That year, two noted Grand National adversaries of the following decade won the two divisions. King Cutler, trained in Co Durham by Denys Smith, won Div 1 under Red Rum’s first regular rider, Brian Fletcher; and L’Escargot, ridden as ever by Tommy Carberry won Div 2. My dad was encouraged to back the winner by a certain Greyhound Express journalist and that made the ride back down the A40 all the more pleasurable. Ironically both Fletcher and Carberry died last year, the former with in many ways scant recognition of his major part in the Red Rum legend, but Carberry four-square credited with the two Gold Cups, one Grand National and some other epic perfomances by the light-blue-hooded “Snail”.

As the father of Nina, Paul and Philip, Tommy’s legacy continues. Of the other four winning riders that day, three, Frank Nash, who also died last year, ‘Kit’ Stobbs and John Crowley were professionals, while a certain Mr M Dickinson won the amateur riders’ race. Whatever happened to him?

As the years go by, selectivity has been the chief option, but when the big handicap fields come along there’s nothing quite like a small-stakes “hunch” bet and even some Placepot, Trifecta and Exacta perms. The decision on that branch of the “investment (sic)” is generally taken later than ideal, but this meeting absolutely is the right time to try to win big for smallish stakes.

The concept of value is always interesting. Died-in-the-wool favourite backers of the old school greet “value”-seekers with the homily – “you can’t eat value”, but there’s always some inner satisfaction when you can say: “I got 20-1 and it started 7’s” even when they still finish out of the money.

Since the full-on Mullins era got into top gear, there has been an exceptionally-strong performance for many of the short-priced horses in non-handicaps. When we get to this late stage of proceedings, most of the price-contraction has happened. But while the day-to-day on course betting markets are driven by, rather than being an influence on, what’s happening on the exchanges, at Cheltenham we still get dozens of layers with satchels full of year-long saved funds to be risked. I’d like to say that there will always be someone willing to stick his head (and a few grand) over the parapet, so if you’re going short, stay patient. For outsiders, scour the lines of bookies for the sticking-out bigger odds, and always monitor the Tote as this is one of the rare occasions in the betting year when, in most big handicap fields, it will offer a considerable edge.

2 Which shortie(s) are you keenest to take on?

When the exchanges started, I remember writing that I believed anyone laying a horse should be required to purchase a lower-grade bookmaker’s licence. Nowadays, with full disclosure to the authorities, malicious (e.g. “crooked”) laying is quickly (one hopes) spotted and the culprits dealt with, so a fair proportion of my initial misgivings have been addressed. But then there are still day-to-day instances of outrageous last-minute fluctuations, both in and out. With all that in mind, I’ve always been emotionally “delicate” about the concept of backing a horse to lose. So if you are asking about “taking on a short-priced horse”, my version would be to back something against it. Samcro, in the Ballymore Novice Hurdle, has all the gloss of an Irish banker, with apparent extra gears available whether he goes the minimum or further. Still I’ll go each way with ON THE BLIND SIDE, hoping if Samcro does prove unbeatable, I could still get most of my money back should Alan Spence’s horse finish second or third.

3 What’s your idea of the best value bet at this stage?

Best value – KALASHNIKOV. The Schweppes Gold Trophy – now the Betfair Hurdle – has been going for more than 50 years. In the first half of its existence there were a fair number of abandonments, but only two have been lost in recent times. Of the 46 winners, only four spotted more than the 11st 5lb Kalashnikov carried to that amazing victory. The first two, Persian War, 11st 13lb in 1968 and Make a Stand 11st 7lb in 1997, won the race in each case in the month before authoritative Champion Hurdle success – so I was there for Persian War’s. The only others to carry more were Copeland (11st 7lb) in 2002 and Essex (11st 6lb) three years later. Add to that distinction the fact that this was his fourth hurdle race and followed a solitary bumper win the previous season. I cannot erase from my mind Kalashnikov’s position some way back three out and his sudden appearance at the head of the highly-representative line-up well before the last. He’d taken ten lengths and more out of most of the field in that short distance. No wonder the experts fear he lacks the necessary speed for two miles!  My bet of the week.

4 Is there a handicap lurker you have your eye on? If so, what?

As a close watcher of the geegeez.co.uk horses, I’ve had a strong belief that their latest promising performer, Oxford Blu, will appreciate the configuration of the track and come home fast in the Fred Winter Hurdle. But more considered (so less biased) deliberation has landed me on something else in the same race. I always liked the French dual Group 1 winner Chichicastenango, probably initially because of his name. So when a few years later he produced Vision D’Etat, I took notice, especially when that colt made the Prix du Jockey Club his fifth successive win. He then won his Arc trial but lost his unblemished record when fifth in the big one, more than three lengths behind Zarkava. He still managed to win a Ganay, a Prince of Wales (Royal Ascot) and a £1 million pot at Sha Tin before retiring the winner of 10 of 17 starts. As a stallion he’s already produced one sensational jumper, De Bon Coeur, who on the reopening of Auteuil on Sunday strolled to a 10-length Grade 3 win, his ninth success in 10 starts, having fallen when well clear in the other.

I’ve had my eye out for progeny of Vision D’Etat’s and sure enough, lurking Oxford Blu is Vision D’Ete, winner of the third of three novice hurdles, by five lengths in a 20-horse field at Cork in December. Owned and trained by Noel Meade, he’s either been shrewdly limited to those runs to protect the mark – 3lb below Oxford Blu – or has had something wrong with him. At time of writing there is some 33-1 available and with the non-runner, no bet concession the norm these days, I recommend betting like men as it will not matter if he’s a no-show. But make sure you save on Oxford Blu. I’ve spent my life going off big-priced winners on to losers of every magnitude, long- or short-priced.

5 Can you offer one piece of advice for betting at the Festival?

My piece of advice for betting at the Festival. Dig out as much money as you can spare before going down to the Cotswolds. Buy three coats, all with at least five pockets, so that if it’s cold (overcoat), wet (smart raincoat) or warm (sports jacket), you are covered. If the weather looks indeterminate, take all three – obviously difficult if you are not travelling there by car, but no problem if you have the resources to take your “man” with you to do the valeting.

Divide the money into four equal piles, to accommodate all four days. Leave the remaining three piles in somewhere secure – your digs should have a safe, if not it’s probably not safe! – and take the first day’s ammunition with you. One-seventh goes in each of the five coat and two trouser pockets. Get your man to sew numbers on the respective pockets and as each race arrives, empty them religiously. A man purse should be carried for extraneous expenses and at no time be allowed to corrupt the sanctity of the week’s 28 individual betting pots. The worst way, you’ll have some nice clothes to take home when you slink away broke after 28 losers, but with the satisfaction that your bank lasted the whole meeting. Of course, if you manage to back a winner or winners, just where to put the proceeds is another problem. Maybe you’ll need to find your way to the gents’ outfitters again. Of course if you are not a “gent”, but a lady racegoer, I’m sure you’ll have no problem either in managing your money or backing winners and above all knowing where to secrete it for safe keeping for the rest of the week. Enjoy!

- TS

My Cheltenham Ante Post Portfolio 2018

As has become customary over the past few years (when I remember), I'm going to share my ante post portfolio for the 2018 Cheltenham Festival. For reasons of just being too bloody busy to watch as much racing as I'd like, it's a little smaller than normal, but that does afford the opportunity to talk to each line on the spreadie...

For info, and for whatever it's worth, here are previous versions (2014 and 2017 missing for some reason):

2013 - 2014 - 2015 - 2016 - 2017

To this year, and here are the bets:

 

 

You'll note that I have no bets on Thursday at this stage. It's unquestionably the poor relation of the week and, to be honest, with Friday being very tricky indeed, my mission is to try to be in front at half time and then try not to lose it in the second half!

The first bet I struck is the last line in the spreadie - a gorgeous mug double on the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup. Might Bite has shortened significantly since mid-November, but Defi Du Seuil, impressive winner of the Triumph Hurdle last season, has failed to make the line up after two poor runs for a stable wrestling with a lurgy this term. (It should also be said that there's a very good chance he was simply not good enough, as most five year olds exiting the Triumph aren't. But, the logic was solid - I made it a very shallow Champion Hurdle and wanted something against Buveur d'Air).

To Tuesday...

In many people's opinion, the first day is the best. That may also be true of Aintree and indeed Royal Ascot, certainly in terms of consistent quality. The opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle is a race which can throw up a nice priced, but not impossible, winner and I've wanted to be against Getabird in spite of that one's obvious class.

I was impressed with Kalashnikov in the Betfair, a race which seems a reasonable trial for this contest and, while conditions are likely to be less testing next Tuesday, I don't think this lad is short of speed. He'll certainly finish off well enough and looks a decent place chance at least at the taken 10/1.

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In the Arkle, I'm against Footpad. While he's done nothing wrong, he wasn't a better hurdler than Petit Mouchoir (4/1 taken) - in fact he was a few pounds inferior - and I'm not sure we've seen the best of the latter. Lob in the possible monster that is Saint Calvados (9/2) and you have a superb race in prospect, where 6/4 is just too short about the jolly. Of course, I'm not saying he can't or won't win; just that it looks a lot more competitive than that. As with Kalashnikov, I've managed to beat the market and, with Sceau Royal coming out, have so far dodged the late non-runner bullets (to continue the semi-automatic weapon analogy). Still time for that to change...

Very few guesses in the handicaps, but Gold Present in the Ultima is one I think will end up around the 5/1 or 6/1 mark, assuming he shows up. 10/1 was fair enough, and 8/1 probably still beats SP, though whether you want to bet at single figure odds in a race like this is moot. He's a progressive sort whose form has worked out very well. Probably wouldn't want it too soft, though.

The Champion Hurdle next and this is Buveur D'Air's race. When I previewed it a while back, I felt it might be worth taking a couple of NRNB stabs safe in the knowledge that we'd get the dough back if they didn't show. My pin fell on Min and Yorkhill. The former looks likely to stay chasing, and the latter has a lot to prove. But reverting to hurdles could be the perfect tonic. Sadly the 5/1 I accepted has now expanded to 10/1 NRNB and it is not that hard to envisage a rejuvenated Yorkhill proving the main danger to the champ.

In the National Hunt Chase, I've had something between a sentimental bet and a value guess on Anthony Honeyball's (actually, Martyn Chapman's) Ms Parfois. This gorgeous mare, who may win Nationals in the next couple of seasons, stays very well, jumps very well, and handles wet ground. Whether she quite has the class of some of these, I'm not sure. But 20/1 was too big. She's a general 16/1 chance and that may also be mildly on the generous side.

Wednesday...

If I'm behind after Tuesday, there's a good chance my Festival will be a losing one; but Wednesday offers more hope than the two days which follow, so...

I had a guess on Next Destination in the Neptune/Ballymore back in early January, since when Samcro has shown himself to be a beast of a man. Still, Death Duty came to the Albert Bartlett with a similarly lofty reputation last term and was well beaten when decanting his rider at the last. 8/1 about a 5/1 shot is OK, especially each way, but this is a nice race. Quite apart from Samcro, there is also On The Blind Side, a smart Hendo novice, and probably one of the Brookhouse pair, Summerville Boy and Black Op.

In the RSA Chase, I took an early punt on Finian's Oscar. Even if he lines up here, he's had a wretched season and I honestly don't think the Tizzard team know quite where they are with him. Clearly talented,  this looks another early season wish gone west. Backed at 16's, he's now 20's everywhere and I don't even have the luxury of NRNB. Given he's more likely for the JLT and could even go to the Stayers' Hurdle, it'll be a minor miracle to even get a run.

Charbel was a good ol' fashioned flyer in the Champion Chase for small money at a big price (nearly 50's on Betfair) back in mid-October. I have to say that, at this stage, I don't know if he will line up but, if he does and if he could come back to the form of his run in the Arkle last term, he'd have a definite squeak in a race where most of the top order have questions to answer. I hope he does show because it'll save me from losing money on something else!

Then comes the Fred Winter where, deities willing, a geegeez syndicate will have a runner! Oxford Blu is our lad's name, and he's been a fantastic stick for us already, with the promise of more to come. He wants further than the two miles he's been racing over (he's a flat winner over 2m2f as a 3yo already), needs a true run race, and handles any ground. Having the champion jockey riding won't be a bad thing if it comes to pass either. I had a dip at 33/1 each way, but in truth I'd have enough to cheer if he turns into the straight with any sort of chance...

More pragmatically, I took a tenner at 50's on Nick Williams' Esprit de Somoza. His win in the Chatteris Fen was not a fluke: rather it was the product of them going very fast early, which is a likely scenario in the Fred Winter. 50/1 is a distant memory now, even though the bet was struck in late February, and he's a top priced 16/1 - generally 14/1 - with Oxford Blu still 25/1 in a few places.

Thursday...

has nothing for me just yet, but I will be backing Waiting Patiently if he's declared for the Ryanair. That lad is some tool. Some serious tool. Soft ground and pace-pressing Un De Sceaux will be optimal for him and he's probably the horse I'm most looking forward to seeing, Oxford Blu aside.

Friday...

And so to Friday. We have two realistic chances to save a losing week here, the Triumph and Gold Cup. But both look seriously competitive this year. In the Triumph, I backed Apple's Shakira in January, at 7/2. Since then a number of Irish horses have staked a claim, and so too has Redicean with a fine effort in the Adonis. But I like the Henderson filly and I don't think we've seen the best of her yet. I felt her Trials Day success was under-rated: she was out of her ground on testing terrain, against a decent enough stick, and finished well on top by the line. Not flashy but highly effective. She's still 10/3 in a place and has a favourite's chance (whatever the hell that means).

And I've had a swipe at the first two in the Spring Hurdle from Ireland. Not sure which of the pair will come out on top next time, but suspect it might be Gordon Elliott's Farclas. Having backed them at 9's and 12's, they're 8/1 each of two now. Willie has a number still engaged in the race, including Eoline Jolie, a mare at whom I blindly hurled a tenner at 33's in December. She's not run since moving to Mullins, and it was a surprise to see the entry kept alive. I doubt she'll run, still less be good enough after such a long layoff, but it remains to be seen which of his quintet take up the engagement.

I'm against Redicean in spite of his tidy victory at Kempton. That's not to say he won't win (natch), just that I'd question the strength of the form.

In the County Hurdle, a miracle punting race if ever there was one, I missed the boat on Flying Tiger having flagged the race as a likely target as early as December on the tweet machine. His chance is respected, along with about a thousand others, but I felt there might be a case for taking an absolute flyer with the horse who ran second to the Tiger in the Fred Winter, Divin Bere. I backed him at 50's and he's weighted to reverse form with Flying Tiger. But the ground could be pretty soft by Friday and that's not at all in his favour, sadly. Might have been a smart call had the precipitation stayed away.

And so to the Gold Cup, a wide open looking heat where they'll likely go 5/1 the field next Friday morning. I love Might Bite. I mean, sure, he's a mentalist, but what ability he has to roll across to the stands and sign a few autographs before breaking Whisper's heart in an RSA. The fact is that, errant courses and last fence horlickses aside, no horse has laid a glove on Might Bite since November 2016. Yes, you have to accept that some weird sh!t could happen when you really don't want it to if you back him. But he's rock solid to give a big run for your money. I haven't backed him, but I will do when the 5's pops up Friday week.

What I have backed is Road To Respect at 12's and 10's (currently 10/1). He's been highly progressive for over a year now and, if it wasn't going to be wet come Gold Cup day, I'd give him an excellent each way chance. He's a strong stayer, upwardly mobile as I've said, and comes here a fresh horse having dodged that hard race at the Dublin Festival. But he's probably a stone less of a man on soft...

My other tickle was/is Anibale Fly, who did run in that Dublin Festival race. Not only that but he took a heavy fall when fired into the second last by a high profile jockey whose biggest fan I am not. If the Fly does show up at Chelto, he hopefully be won't be ridden by that pilot, but irrespective of that he too wouldn't want it deep.

It could be Might Bite to save the week. There's a slightly terrifying prospect!

Matt

How to Bet the Cheltenham Festival

Denis Beary is a punter of many Festivals past at this point and someone who thinks deeply about form and betting. With Cheltenham less than four weeks away now, I caught up with him to see what he is expecting from this year’s meeting, and to discuss the Festival betting landscape in general, writes Tony Keenan.

 

Are you looking forward to Cheltenham this year, be it from a betting or racing perspective? There’s a sense that this has been the season when people have tired a little of the 12-month build-up to the meeting, the incessant ante-post quotes, the endless preview nights. What do you reckon?

Although I agree that Festival hype is completely overdone these days, the year I don’t look forward to Cheltenham I’ll know it’s time to pack it in and take up growing vegetables or something. I’ve blogged that this is the first year I won’t be there in quite a long time but that doesn’t mean I won’t be clearing the decks to allow full immersion for the four days. Of course I still enjoy the spectacle; it’s still the highlight of the National Hunt season even if they have diluted the quality considerably by adding the extra races and a fourth day.

In terms of punting it’s a chance to have a “Super Saturday” for 4 straight days – by that I mean a high turnover day with the firms betting to very competitive percentages and laying plenty of horses so they really don’t mind taking your business. A bet that would typically require a phone call, probably followed by a stake limitation on a normal weekday, barely gets glanced at – that’s a big plus.

 

Is ante-post betting on the meeting dead or dying? Perhaps it’s the romantic in me but I seem to remember times past when you would try to find something at 33/1 for a race like the Gold Cup, watch it shorten all winter nursing your docket tenderly and it with pitch up on the day at 6/1 and regardless of the result you got some value. I have barely even tried to find a bet like that this season. Furthermore, the biggest betting firm in Ireland, Paddy Power, went non-runner, no-bet for all races at a ridiculously early stage (January 9th) and basically said we don’t want ante-post money. What are your thoughts on the early NRNB? 

I largely agree. The Paddy NRNB prices are laughably awful and I’ve hardly bothered to go through them. I preferred when the firms used to go NRNB more or less together usually at the end of February or early March. I used to find that a few firms didn’t fully understand the difference that NRNB makes, especially in the handicaps. That hasn’t been as evident in the past few years. From a time where I’d be flat out going through every race at this stage 10 years ago, I’m far more relaxed about it now and I don’t expect to have nearly as many bets ante post as I did back then. The fact that there are multiple targets for every horse now complicates the picture considerably and in a lot of cases you’re better waiting until the smoke clears. I’d only bet one ante post now if a) its target is in no doubt and b) I’m getting double what I’d expect the SP to be. That’s not easy to find these days.

Ante-post wise these days I tend to concentrate on the three big championship races mostly on Betfair trying to make a book over the season backing and laying. My entry point is often a returning hero that I want to be against – for example this season I was heavily against Faugheen, Douvan and Thistlecrack before the season started. I’m generally looking to take on older horses (ten-year-olds plus) and those returning from injury. They are usually bad bets for the championship races in March. If you get one in the book at a nice price you can back a few against them and end up with a few cheap greens. That’s the theory anyway.

 

What are you expecting betting-wise at the meeting? Last year was the first Festival in a while when the big firms didn’t go crazy in terms of overrounds, perhaps due to some poor results at previous meetings.  There was value but it wasn’t the dead giveaway that might have been expected. I think lots of us – myself included – are waiting for a beano on the day of the race that may not materialise. 

I don’t think it’ll be much different. They’ll still bet very well in the morning and it’ll be the usual choice between taking the best morning price and waiting for Betfair near the off. I assume there will be some crazy Powers offer on the Supreme as usual but they usually limit stakes which makes it not worth that much unless you’re prepared to spend the whole day touring shops; there are better uses of time that week.

 

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One of the problems punters face in the run-up to Cheltenham is information overload. I often think people would be better focussing on three or four key criteria when trying to find a bet rather than trying to throw 20 variables into the mix as this just becomes confusing. There’s lots of stuff we will read or hear over the next month or so that may be of dubious value; what’s the best way to sift through it?

It is a problem. Between podcasts, blogs, Twitter, preview nights, the trade paper and the racing websites you could spend twelve hours a day reading opinion on the Festival every day between now and then. I like to read factual information regarding targets and state of fitness and very little else. I don’t do podcasts or previews. It’s better to form your own opinion and stand or fall by that.

I have a routine that hasn’t changed much in the past few years: I make a point of watching last year’s Festival at least twice in the weeks beforehand. It’s amazing how you forget what ran well there and I think course form is still underbet. I tend to look at one or two of the conditions races per day in the run up and start to form opinions on the main chances. I leave the handicaps a bit later as the entries at this stage would frighten you. During the Festival itself I try and stay a day ahead; I’ll have gone through the Wednesday card before watching Tuesday. That’s one thing I’m looking forward to this year, being at home and being able to do that properly every day – some of my best scores have been spotting an early rick for Wednesday while everyone’s eyes are on Tuesday!

 

Are there any in-season angles you are looking to exploit at the Festival? For instance, do you think the Irish novice hurdlers are particularly strong or weak? Is there a trainer that has been going particularly well or badly that could be worth following or opposing next month?

It’s fairly likely that the Irish novice hurdlers are ahead, but that looks factored into the prices at the moment. Something you’ve alluded to before is worth bearing in mind – if results during the Festival start to hint that a certain form line or group of horses might be better than previously thought then it can be worth jumping on that train before the market catches up. Even the result of something like the Supreme could tell you how well or badly in the Irish novices might be in the likes of the County for instance. I’d like to see more signs of life from Philip Hobbs in the next few weeks as he’s been unusually quiet – he could be worth watching in the handicaps if his form picks up.

 

How do you expect the Dublin Racing Festival form to work out? I know it’s basically an amalgam of races that were already there but a large proportion of them seem to have been run at a proper gallop which may be a less than ideal prep. The racing was good but was it too good? Willie Mullins did something that he hasn’t really done before pre-Punchestown in running 42 horses across the two days. That was largely to get back into the trainers’ race but one wonders if there might be a price to pay down the line, if not at Cheltenham then perhaps at the later spring festivals. 

I would be betting that plenty of Cheltenham winners will come out of that weekend, but perhaps not all of them will be ones that won. A last-time-out prep at Leopardstown has previously been a big plus so I don’t see why that shouldn’t hold true again just because it’s now a “festival.”  There’s enough time for a horse to recover from a biggish run there.

 

What do you think is the most underrated thing at the Festival? And the most overrated thing? For me, current season form, bizarrely, might be the most underrated thing while past Festival form (and by that I mean the form that isn’t working out) seems to be overvalued. Obviously the strong Festival form is some of the best on offer but I wonder if people are too forgiving of past form from the meeting that really amounts to little. 

As I’ve said already I still think previous festival form is underbet. That doesn’t mean high profile winning form but I love realising that the horse I like in the Coral Cup ran a nice seventh in the bumper two years ago. It means the horse has been through the whole festival hoopla before and managed to cope and run a race. The opposite also applies; I couldn’t entertain Foxrock for a Foxhunters for instance as he’s been over twice and flopped badly, reported as having not eaten or drunk well on his travels.

The other thing I think is underrated is the preparation.  I like horses whose season has gone to plan; they don’t need to have won all their races but they’ve appeared when they were supposed to and run their races. I’ll be against horses like Altior who had a big hiatus and surgery mid-season and Sizing John who ran a shocker and then hasn’t had a prep race since. In terms of overrated factors, old form comes to mind; Faugheen romping home in the 2015 Champion Hurdle is still fresh in people’s minds but it is three years ago and he’s ten now and has had almost two years off the track in the interim.

 

I know from chatting to you over the years that you often tend to pick out some mad horses that the market and most other punters hate. Is this a by-product of an increasing reliance on Betfair SP markets (those horses tending to drift to massive prices at the off) and how do you think this approach will play out at Cheltenham? 

The way I see it you have two goes at the markets: in the morning, with the pick of the earlies, then the Betfair market near the off. The skill is in knowing which way to jump and it’s not easy. You tend to know which ones will be easy to back based on their profiles and connections. When you wait for the live market you also have the advantage of knowing the earlier results and the way the ground is riding. I’ll do less Betfair than normal days but it’ll still be a significant percentage.

 

Models and stat-based betting are hot topics at the moment. I don’t know whether you use a model as such but I know stats and systems are something you are interested in. Are there any systems that you think could be useful at the Festival? 

The stats-based approach to the Festival used to be punting gold in the early years of the Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide, to which I know you contribute. Like all systems though, its growing popularity has lessened its usefulness. I still keep profiles on every festival race from a stats perspective which I update every year – pretty similar to the methodology in the “Guide”, I still find it valuable though you need to be flexible. I wouldn’t back a five-year-old in a Champion Hurdle, for instance, though I remember Paul Jones getting panned when Katchit won!

 

Pool betting opportunities can be infrequent on day-to-day racing but with all the money being bet at Cheltenham there can be some value on offer. How do you approach the Tote and have you a favourite bet? Are there days when you prefer to bet and others to stay away from? In recent history, Tuesday has tended to be quite predictable in terms of outcomes with cards like Friday tending to throw up more wild results. 

I used to use the Tote for outsiders 12 or 15 years ago but it’s no good now; I don’t even look at the win pools. Fred has also ruined the Jackpot by putting races from away meetings into it. If there is a carryover and it’s restricted to Cheltenham, I’ll look at the Jackpot especially on the Tuesday. I think they’ve ruined the UK Tote but I’m hopeful that might change with the new consortium coming in this year.

 

Finally, you strike me as a good judge of judges who reads anything that is worth reading. Is there anyone out there that punters should be reading or following on Twitter?

Polzeath Ratings (@PolzeathRatings) does really good time analysis as interprets it sensibly. The Helpful Punter (@HelpfulPunter) is worth a follow; he has some interesting ideas.

Tony Keenan (@racingtrends on twitter) was speaking to Denis Beary (@carvillshill on twitter)

Eight Cheltenham Festival Takeaways: Notebook Horses

Notebook Horses From Cheltenham

As the Cheltenham Festival gradually begins to fade from the memory, racing writer and broadcaster Rory Delargy (@helynsar on twitter) offers an octet to keep in mind for the coming month, and early part of next season. Trackers and/or notepads at the ready...

Tuesday:

The Young Master (6th - Ultima Handicap Chase):
The early-season vibes weren't terribly positive about the prolific son of Echo of Light, and he was relatively weak in the market when falling in the Becher Chase on his belated return (beaten at the time). He predictably made no impact in the Cleeve Hurdle on his next start, but looked a picture in the Cheltenham paddock, and shaped as if back in good order in finishing sixth behind Un Temps Pour Tout. He raced in the mid-division along the inside, jumping accurately on the whole, and while he struggled a little with the pace, was able to dispute third at the top of the hill before being passed by half a dozen rivals on the downhill run to the third last fence. He looked sure to drop away from that point, but rallied to re-pass a few from the final turn, and he now looks like he needs a stamina test to be fully effective. It's easy to conclude that he doesn't handle the Grand National fences, but it's a lot more likely that he's been trained to peak again in the spring, and either the National or the Bet365 Gold Cup would be viable targets. As far as the latter is concerned, it should be noted that the handicapper has dropped him 2lb to a mark of 148, the same as when winning last April.

Powersbomb (4th - Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase)
Brian McMahon's chaser has caught the eye on a couple of occasions this year, rallying in some style after propping badly at the second-last fence at Leopardstown on his penultimate outing, and again looking a bit better than the bare result last week. In contrast to Leopardstown, he was held up by Jamie Codd (deputising for regular rider Mikey Fogarty), and made mistakes at the second and fourth fences. That made his chance look remote, and he was again untidy when making ground at the third last. Shaken up thereafter, he snapped back onto the bridle, and made sharp progress to get close at the turn, but had to race wide as a result, and while he got to the front between the last two, he was looking vulnerable when getting into  the bottom of the last. That he kept on for fourth was commendable as he looked to find the trip stretching him, but I spoke to Jamie straight afterwards, and he was unhappy with his ride and admitted that he'd hit the front too soon. In saying that, he is clearly effective at shorter, and would be of interest in the Red Rum at Aintree, which is usually run at a frenetic pace. He's been raised 4lb to 134 in Ireland, incidentally, but ran off 138 at Cheltenham, and there ought to be a race for him closer to home if that's what McMahon, who trains near Ennis in Co. Clare, would prefer.

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Wednesday:

Scoir Mear (5th - Coral Cup)
Scoir Mear was my only ante-post bet at the Festival, so it was galling to see him finish fifth when most firms paid five places on the day (yet another reason to throw into the pot marked "why ante-post betting is dead"). But that doesn't begin to tell the story, as Tom Mullins' grey might easily have won with better luck/judgement in running. Jumped off at the rear, he was never more than a length ahead of the back marker for the first half of the contest, and despite travelling sweetly, still sat sixteenth as the field jumped the penultimate flight. In a strongly run affair this can potentially be an advantage (who can forget What's Up Boys and Big Strand coming from the clouds to win this race?), but the pace of the Coral Cup steadied down before halfway and the leaders weren't falling in a hole by any means. Switched to the inside on the final turn by David Mullins, he found a pocket of weakening horses, and had to take back and around to get a clear passage. Jumping the last in a dispute of thirteenth place, he again had to take evasive action to avoid Kalondra on landing, before flashing home for fifth. The negatives are that he wasn't always fluent at his hurdles, and did show a tendency to lug to his left, which explains the second piece of interference he met, but the positives far outweigh those niggles, and while Supasundae deserves full credit for winning, Scoir Mear looked second best on the day, and his form all season keeps getting franked. The Irish handicapper has raised him by a solitary pound for his effort at Cheltenham, and there must be a valuable prize in him before the season is through. On an incidental note, I was told on the eve of the race that the 5-y-o had not travelled over well, and didn't eat up on arrival. That wasn't the line given on the day by his trainer, but it came from a reliable source, and would make the performance even more meritorious if true.

Diable de Sivola (5th – Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle)
The Fred Winter shaped like a very strong race for all the winner, Flying Tiger, was quite a big price. Runner-up Divin Bere is clearly a big talent, and Nietzche brought a solid profile and very useful flat form to the table. That trio should pay their way, but the one to take out of the race is the winner's stablemate, Diable de Sivola, who finished best of all in fifth, having been no closer than thirteenth jumping the last. It's dangerous to constantly mark up horses who finish fast from a poor position, and in doing so, it's important to establish why they found themselves in that position in the first place. In the case of Lizzie Kelly's mount, it's not entirely clear how, but he suddenly lost a good position on the run from the second and third flights, and was massively compromised by that scenario. Television pictures of that part of the race are very poor (wide angle shot with the low sun making detail hard to pick out), but it's likely that he got squeezed out and lost momentum, or simply failed to handle the downhill run at that point. Either way, he turned into the back straight in a good position, and somehow lost that spot completely by the time the field reached the fourth. Getting back into contention in a congested field was always going to be difficult, and Kelly had to wait until the final turn before cutting back to the inside and passing rivals. It's to his credit that he almost made the frame from an impossible position. He was reported by Nick Williams to have needed his prep run at Doncaster, and an earlier second to Defi du Seuil here looks better in retrospect, all of which suggests his unchanged mark of 132 is there to be exploited.

Thursday:

Top Notch (2nd - JLT Novices' Chase)
Pretty much all the talk after the JLT was about the brilliance of Yorkhill, or indeed the brilliance of his jockey, who somehow managed to make this headcase look a straightforward conveyance in winning, and he's as short as 8/1 for next year's Gold Cup, and the same price for the Ryanair. On the other hand, Top Notch goes through an impressive first season over fences with barely a ripple; already a Grade 1 winner over the bigger obstacles, he could arguably be called an unlucky loser here, as he lost considerably more ground with a rare mistake at the second last than he was beaten, and his jumping was an absolute joy to behold in the main, as it was when he won at Sandown. That mistake rather took the gloss off the finish, as it threatened to be a classic with both he and the winner travelling strongly at the time. The game is, as we're often reminded, all about jumping, so marking horses up for late errors is a dangerous precedent, but this looked a case of the rider needing to ask for a big jump at a crucial point and opting to sit still instead. Top Notch isn't one to stand outside the wings, but he has more scope than he's given credit for, as he showed when gaining ground with a brave leap at the final fence, and in my opinion he would have made Yorkhill pull out all the stops if he'd been asked to produce a similar leap at the previous fence. As such, his price of 16/1 for next year's Ryanair seems rather insulting, as that race looks by far his most likely long-term target. In the short term, the Manifesto at Aintree should be right up his street, with or without Yorkhill.

Ballymalin (7th - Pertemps Final)
One of the features of the week was how steadily run many of the handicaps were, although the Pertemps Final was an exception, and a couple of those who raced towards the front throughout can be marked up for their efforts. The bold-jumping Sutton Place looks a horse for the future, with fences beckoning next season, but if I had to pick just one to choose for the immediate future it would be Ballymalin, whose stable sent seventeen runners to the meeting but came home empty-handed. I'm not one to read too much into such figures given how hard it is to win any race at Cheltenham, and it was tactics rather than the form of his yard which saw Ballymalin out of the frame. All three of the Twiston-Davies runners took turns in the lead and the son of Presenting fared much better in the end than either Splash of Ginge or Arctic Gold, and five of those who beat him came from significantly further back in the field. This was just his second start in handicaps having finished third behind race favourite Impulsive Star in his qualifier at Exeter, and while he's clearly got the ability to run well off his mark (unchanged since Exeter), I envisage him being stepped up to Grade 1 company at Aintree, where he'd not look out of place in the Sefton Novices' Hurdle, a race won by the same connections with Ballyoptic last year. Nigel Twiston-Davies also trained King's Road (1999) and Pettifour (2008) to land the Sefton, both of whom arrived under the radar to some degree.

Friday:

Renneti (8th - County Hurdle)
Some horses find their way into your notebook with a mental asterisk next to their names to remind you not to be too easily fooled, and the temptation is to categorize the quirky Renneti like that.  He certainly hasn't looked in love with the game in the past year, but when on song he is very close to top class, and he had nothing go his way in a bizarre renewal of the County Hurdle, with Wakea allowed to set up a massive lead despite not exactly scorching off. As a result, the race only took shape on the long run to the final flight, and the form cannot be taken literally. Renneti would have preferred a bit more ease in the ground, for all the track was watered liberally overnight, and he stays beyond two miles, needing the emphasis on stamina at this sort of trip. Like Labaik on Tuesday, he set off quite sweetly at the back of the field, but his position soon became an issue, and his chance of winning evaporated when the field allowed the leader to do his own thing.  That said, he made up considerable ground from the penultimate obstacle, and finished about as fast as it was possible given the majority in front of him were also trying to quicken from the same juncture. He's never one about which to take short odds, and ideally needs a strongly-run race on soft ground to bring out his best, so opportunities to back him may be limited by conditions, but he's more than capable of making a mockery of his current mark, and could even get into the mix in something like the Aintree Hurdle.

Constantine Bay (4th - Albert Bartlett)
The Albert Bartlett was another race run at a much more pedestrian tempo than is the norm, and that certainly suited the winner, who has the turn of foot of a high-class flat performer, something he is likely to prove again in the summer. Those who got close to Penhill therefore deserve great credit, and while Constantine Bay was beaten over fifteen lengths in fourth, he was the biggest eyecatcher of the beaten horses having been stopped in his tracks when The World's End fell in front of him at the second last (Penhill also hampered in the incident, while the faller is also interesting for the future having moved up to dispute the lead at the point he capsized). He was knocked back to a poor ninth at that point, and did really well to stay on for fourth from that point. He is clearly a game and thorough stayer as he showed when winning at Doncaster on his previous outing, and it should be pointed out that he was at full stretch coming down the hill, so clearly wouldn't want a tactical race at this trip. But there are lots of options both this spring and into next season for one who has shown his blend of gameness and stamina, and he's another who appeals as a decent staying chaser in the making.

Cheltenham Festival 2017: Best Bookmaker Offers

There is no week in racing like Cheltenham Festival week for knockout bookie concessions. In fact, this site has largely given up promoting bookmakers because their offers are normally so loaded with unfair conditions. But the bookmakers know this is one of the biggest 'acquisition' windows - periods when they can get new account signups - in the sporting calendar; and they make it worth our while.

So here are the pick of the bookmaker offers that I can see (it's a shortlist at the moment, and the first one is the standout if you don't already have a Victor account).

One word of warning: please, please, PLEASE do your own due diligence on an offer if you have reservations. Some are location specific, some won't apply if using certain payment methods, and so on. Make sure you check.

BetVictor

NEW customers: Bet £10, and get a free £2 bet on EVERY race at the Festival (28 of them)

 

SkyBet

ALL customers: Money back as a free bet if you lose in the first race each day (£20 max, applies to bets struck now as well as on the day, NRNB)

NEW customers: £10 FREE bet - NO DEPOSIT REQUIRED

 

bet365

ALL customers: Best Odds Guaranteed and NRNB on ALL Festival races. Extra place concessions will be available from the day before the Festival races. Plus, for every winner at 4/1 or bigger you bet on an ITV racing race, you'll get a risk-free bet to the same stake on the next ITV racing race.

 

Tote Ireland

NEW customers: Get up to €100 cash back. Quote 'GEEGEEZ1' in the Promo Code box to qualify. Full terms here.

ALL customers: Bet €20 to €100 win single through Tote and if SP is greater get paid at SP. Full terms here.

AND... if you make your placepot bets into Irish Tote, you get paid at the UK dividend (same with all bets here) and you help geegeez.co.uk at the same time. [We get a small rebate for every euro invested into the pools, which we use to fund our free site content].

10 ‘No Downside’ Cheltenham Ante Post Bets

National Hunt racing begins its very own period of Lent today as there are now just 40 days until tapes rise on the opening races of the Cheltenham Festival. In recognition of the Festival's proximity, the laymen (that is, bookmakers) are beginning to lower their guard on their ante-post books. Far from abstinence, though, now is a time to begin to build the punting portfolio with some heartening safety nets in situ.

While many firms are non-runner no bet (NRNB) on the four Championship races - Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers' Hurdle, Gold Cup - we are starting to see wider NRNB provisions. As of yesterday, bet365 are NRNB on all Festival races; and they're also offering Best Odds Guaranteed (BOG), meaning if the starting price is greater than the price you take, you'll get paid at the greater odds. Nice.

William Hill also have a broad Festival concession. They will refund stakes on horses that miss the Festival entirely, but will refund as a free bet if the horse lines up in another race, on bets up to £25. Although the 'other race' concession offers less liberty to recycle the misplaced wager funds, say for example on something not related to betting, it is still a far sight better than losing your cash.

At time of writing, Thursday 2nd February, those are the only two firms offering 'every race' concessions, but if you're reading this at a later date do check for more bookies coming on board.

Why is NRNB important for Cheltenham Festival ante post betting?

Since the move to a four day Festival, owners and trainers have often found themselves with multiple big race options where previously there would have been only one. The intermediate distance races, such as the JLT Novices' Chase and the Ryanair Chase, and the Fred Winter, a four year old handicap hurdle, are three such noteworthy imponderables.

From a punting perspective, it was a familiar refrain of punters - who were either loose of trigger finger or simply unlucky - when a seemingly well made wager came unstuck at the changing whim of a big name handler. Worse still in this day of trainer blogs and 24/7 soundbites, not to mention the all-seeing eye of the exchange markets, one or two of those most heavily represented at the Festival skirt dangerously close to actually putting punters away such is the flippancy with which they jettison their verbal debris.

The message is clear: the messages will be unclear. Do not believe the messages. Clear? 😉

Put another way, bet365 and William Hill have presented the required insurance against which to take a contrarian view. Naturally they have taken their own measures, in terms of truncated prices, about such ambiguous propositions, but be in no doubt that this situation favours the backer more than the layer.

When to avail of NRNB in Cheltenham Festival ante post markets?

The simple answer is "always". But there are some situations - especially closer to race day - when the price differential between a NRNB firm and one offering 'all in run or not' (i.e. you do your dough if the nag doesn't show) will make it worth the risk.

But what about if a horse is more likely for another race? Or simply has more than one possible target? Or maybe has been the subject of an injury scare or unsatisfactory work reports?

In any of these scenarios, NRNB is a must, even if it means taking less than the top price offered by an 'all in' bookmaker.

Of course, regardless of bookie concession, we still have to feel there is value in the available odds!

So here follow ten 'no downside' Cheltenham Festival ante post bets...

Tuesday

Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Although Skybet - who sponsor the race - have joined 365 and Hills in going NRNB on the Supreme, there is little point betting ante post on the Festival's opening race. That is because, for recreational punters (up to £25 stakes) at least, there will be so much 'get cash in betting accounts' action going on in the 24 hours preceding 1.30pm on 14th March that you'll probably be out of pocket going in earlier. So let's save that for another day.

Arkle Challenge Trophy

The second race, the Arkle, looks sown up by ante-post favourite Altior who is borderline "bar a fall" material. With that in mind, you might be tempted by 4/6 NRNB and BOG with bet365, or by 8/11 NRNB with Hills. I'm not especially, as I don't have enough sixes to want some more fours!

Champion Hurdle

If ever a race was a prime candidate for NRNB it is this season's Champion Hurdle where no fewer than four of the first five in the market are subject to injury scares or possible alternative targets.

Faugheen has not been seen for more than a year and missed his intended comeback at Leopardstown last weekend with a suspected pulled muscle. Given that Annie Power has yet to be seen this season, seven-time Grade 1 winner Nichols Canyon ran terribly recently as did Vroum Vroum Mag (albeit scraping home in front), and Min missed his late January Grade 1 target it is possible that something is slightly askew at Closutton. NRNB would be the only way I'd entertain a Mullins runner right now.

Yanworth also misses his scheduled engagement this weekend, and has been replaced by the re-routed Buveur d'Air, previously thought on target for the Arkle. And finally Yorkhill is not even entered for the Champion Hurdle and was last seen failing to convince (this eye at least) with his jumping in a moderate Grade 3 over fences.

That leaves Petit Mouchoir, winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle in Faugheen's absence, as the only 'definite' runner from the top quintet in the betting. Alas, he ran no better than mid-division in the Supreme, and may be better suited by a flat track. He's not for me at 5/1 tops.

We have two ways to go here: we either take a punt at a price, mindful that at least some of those making the market will not show up; or we take a chance on one of the possible no shows.

Faugheen is 6/4 NRNB, which is mildly appealing. Willie Mullins has shown many times he can get one ready off a layoff, and it's a shallow-looking edition of the race. He surely won't run if not spot on, and he'll be closer to even money if he does appear.

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If Faugheen misses the party and Yanworth accepts his invitation, the latter would be around 5/2. His current NRNB quote of 5/1 with racebets looks very fair. Fourth in the Champion Bumper of 2015, and second in the Neptune last year having received an 'interesting' ride, his beating of The New One in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton looks rock solid in the context of this year's two mile division.

Given that Yorkhill has been training over fences this season, it's a little late to be thinking about reverting to the top table of hurdling. In any case, such notions are hardly a vote of confidence in Faugheen's wellbeing, even from the notoriously inscrutable Mullins camp.

I've perhaps never given Buveur d'Air the credit he deserves. After all, he was a good third in the Supreme last year before winning the Grade 1 Top Novices' Hurdle at Aintree. But he too has been chasing this season to date, and reverts to timber-topping at Sandown on Saturday with a fair bit to prove. Even if he beats Brain Power - a general 8/1 chance for the Champion Hurdle - he ought not to shorten much, so there's little upside to him.

16/1 The New One is not as daft a suggestion as it first sounds in what could be a really hollow field, but Yanworth looks a bet with the concession at 5/1.

Not much else to appeal on Tuesday.

Wednesday

Neptune Novices' Hurdle

This looks tricky but Neon Wolf - who has been winning over two miles despite an assertion from his jockey, Noel Fehily, that he wants three - is playable NRNB. A top priced 7/1, he's 6/1 with Hills who will give you a free bet if Harry Fry's rising star diverts to the Supreme.

Finian's Oscar heads the market but he may also head to the Supreme, and anyway I'm unsure of the merit of beating Capitaine versus beating Elgin. Wholestone would also be a player if lining up here rather than the Albert Bartlett, and 12/1 is tempting with the safety net.

RSA Chase

I'm loathe to back anything trained by Willie ante-post for reasons I've already alluded to. Apart from an unease about the stable health, I also feel they're generally under-priced because of recent Festival history. Let's be clear: Mullins is not heading into Cheltenham in anything like the form he has done in the last two seasons, and there are question marks about most of his top horses currently. There are still six weeks for that to change, so I don't want to be unequivocal, but at the same time this is a post about future wagers, and most of his charges represent no value in that context.

I'm against Might Bite, the only other horse in this market with a single figure quote, too. Sure, he would have been mightily impressive if standing up at the last in the Feltham at Kempton; but we all know what a different test that is from the RSA. And we mostly know that no Feltham winner has ever won the RSA.

"But he didn't win the Feltham", I hear you say. True dat, as the Hackney kids might retort - those with a form book and an eye for trends at least - but the balance of his form marks him down as flat track bully material. So do two defeats at Cheltenham, in spite of a win in a weak novices hurdle at the track when odds on (second horse has failed to even make the frame in seven subsequent starts, all at Class 3 or lower).

Royal Vacation was the beneficiary when Might Bite came down at Kempton, having not been able to go with that one in the run for home. On the stiffer test of Cheltenham's slopes he lugged 11-09 to victory in a novices' handicap chase last weekend. That race has proven a good portent to Festival handicap winners in recent times, but the last winner to carry near top weight was The Giant Bolster, who went on to challenge in Gold Cups.

Colin Tizzard has some pretty smart staying chasers (understatement klaxon) with which to gauge the merit of this fellow, and his progressive ratings - 121, 128, 131, 136, 144, 149, 155 his last seven on the RPR scale - mean he has more in his favour than many. 20/1 is the best price, but 16/1 can be had with Hills and buys 'other race/no race' insurance.

Cross Country Chase

I love this race and normally have a pretty strong view. But not this year. It reverted to a level weights race last year, and that means Cantlow will be a stone better off with Urgent de Gregaine for a three length beating at the weekend. But 7/4 NRNB is hardly pant-wetting in the anticipation stakes.

One of mild interest given his run style, stamina, appreciation of fast ground and target - I'm told deeply unreliably he's headed for the Grand National - might be Cause Of Causes. He'll have a bunch of other targets at the Festival, by which time his National mark will have been allotted, and he'll be given a "better judged" ride by regular big race pilot, Jamie Codd, next time.

Quoted in three other races, Cause Of Causes makes fair appeal at 12/1 NRNB, given his official Irish mark of 148 suggests he has an 18lb advantage over Cantlow's 130 on these level weights terms, and given that only one horse - from 59 rivals - has beaten him at the last three Cheltenham Festivals!

Thursday

JLT Novices' Chase

An intermediate distance race, the JLT will accrue runners from both the Arkle and RSA challenges, and many currently quoted will defect to one of that pair of more established heats. As such it is a perfect NRNB punting proposition. Even more so, given that the 2/1 ante-post favourite, Yorkhill, jumps a fence so badly he may be redirected to the Champion Hurdle. Of course, such a detour hints strongly at his level of ability, but he simply pleads to be taken on.

The speculative dart here lands on the five year old Paul Nicholls-trained Frodon. He fell when appearing not to stay in the Feltham at Christmas, but before that took out a competitive Grade 3 handicap chase against far more experienced rivals at Cheltenham. And before that he was still cruising when making a howitzer of a blunder four from home at the same Festival track.

This looks his trip and he acts at the course making 20/1 NRNB BOG with bet365 well worth a penny or two.

Ryanair Chase

Another middle distance race, the Ryanair dilutes the Queen Mother and Gold Cup - according to its detractors at least - and makes life difficult for 'all in run or not' punters.

Un De Sceaux heads the market after his rescheduled Clarence House win at Cheltenham last weekend. There he beat a fast-closing Uxizandre, who was returning to the track after close to two years off, over the minimum distance. This extra half mile-plus is likely in Uxizandre's favour, but I do have a doubt about the dreaded 'bounce' (when a horse underperforms second time off a long layoff having run very well first time back).

Six weeks between runs is probably enough for Uxi to recover and, if he brings his A game, 7/1 with Hills is big. A Cheltenham record of 2112, including a second in the JLT of 2014 and a win in this race a year later, adds further lustre to his claims.

It's really not a great race, though one who is definitely worth the 'money back as a free bet' chance is 14/1 Djakadam. Far more likely to head to the Gold Cup, for which he's a general 6/1 chance and in which he's been second the last two years, there was talk from the Mullins team of a tilt at the Ryanair. If he were to run here, he'd be more like a 5/1 chance, and if - as is likely - he doesn't, we'll get a free bet opportunity on something else.

Stayers' Hurdle

Unowhatimeanharry is a legitimate favourite and a strong contender for staying honours, but that is borne out in a top quote of 7/4. He's unbeaten in eight since Harry Fry acquired him from Helen Nelmes, and his rating has soared from 125 to 167.

While Fry may have left something to work on at Cheltenham last weekend, he only had a length and a quarter to spare over 2015 World Hurdle winner, Cole Harden. What is most noteworthy about the former champ's performance is that he was expected to hate the soft ground and was sent off a massive 20/1, having been much shorter in the morning.

Warren Greatrex's runner is a bit of a hostage to fortune in that he likes to lead in his races, and there will be challenges for that honour in March, but so too were there here and yet he ran highly creditably. The form looks very solid with West Approach and Ballyoptic filling the next two places at respectful distances, and the old guard - including the still quite young Old Guard (!) - were well beaten off.

Hills are joint top price at 14/1, and that looks a perfectly palatable win/place play.

Friday

The Triumph Hurdle becomes increasingly impenetrable for those of us without a handle on the French form book, and I will defer in favour of more approachable puzzles, like the...

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle

Let's go long here if we can. Like the race itself, where horses are usually asked to do something they've never done before, I'm looking for a horse that has thus far been taken out of its comfort zone in Graded company: horses at the head of the market, like West Approach and Wholestone, may just have too much class and not enough stamina for the spudsfest.

Invitation Only is a little shorter than I'd like, at 12/1, but he fits the bill having been badly outpaced in a Navan Grade 2 over two and a half miles last time when sent off at even money. That effort, allied to his barreling win in a three mile point suggests he'll love this longer trip, and he's likely to prove more courage than class in the fullness of time. Just the sort that wins your average Albert Bartlett.

Gold Cup

The Blue Riband has looked a buggers' muddle all season, and I struck my first - and only meaningful - ante post wager on Djakadam at 14/1 back in November. The logic was clear: plenty had participation doubts, not least Coneygree and Don Cossack.

We now know neither will show, and Thistlecrack's hitherto aura of invincibility has just dissipated sufficiently to envisage another usurping his presumed procession to top honours.

But race looks sewn up from an ante post perspective, the bookies having a half nelson on the form.

But there might just be one at a huge price that could play a hand. Last year's RSA Chase winner, Blaklion, was less than eight lengths behind Native River in the Hennessy off level weights (less a pound).

He's had one disappointing run since, at Wetherby on Boxing Day, and on ratings he's probably ten pounds below making the frame in a normal Gold Cup; but I'm not convinced this is the deepest renewal.

Nigel Twiston-Davies' eight-year-old stays well, handles the track and goes in any ground. There's a good chance he lacks the requisite class but at 50/1 he's worth a tiny dabble BOG NRNB with bet365.

**

From here, all roads lead to the Cheltenham Festival and, with bookmakers finally lowering their guard by offering non-runner no bet across all races, it may be time for some preliminary skirmishes. Most, if not all, of the ten horses flagged above will either start shorter or not run - triggering cash back or a free bet in lieu - and a single winner would at least go close to covering the losers.

Good luck!

Matt

p.s. those are my plays in the NRNB markets. What truffles have you snouted out from your own ante post foraging? Leave a comment and share the hope!

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