Incredibly, three weeks from now, the Cheltenham Festival will be over for another year. That's too sad a thought to contemplate, so how about it's only two weeks until the 2013 Cheltenham Festival? Much better... 🙂
As regular readers (and competition entrants) will know, I've been promoting BetVictor a fair amount lately. The reasons for this are more than just because they gave me £200 to give to you (via the competitions). In fact, that came after I approached them.
The main reason I recommend BetVictor just now is because of their excellent 'Non Runner Free Bet' concession for both the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National. We'll save the latter treat for another day, but in this post I want to focus on seven horses who I consider are 'bets to nothing' at the Festival.
First, let me quickly explain the Non Runner Free Bet rules. (Note, these shouldn't be treated as a substitute for you scouting full chapter and verse here)
- Maximum refund per horse per customer is £50 (so if you back the same horse in multiple races, take care not to breach the ceiling)
- Maximum refund per race is £100 (so you could back two non-runners in a race for £50 and receive cash back as a free bet)
- Only win or each way SINGLES are eligible. No multiple wagers (as if!)
- Refunds will be applied to your account as promo cash on the morning of the race from which your nag failed to show (e.g. back a NR in the Champion Hurdle, and you'll get your promo cash on the Tuesday before noon)
- Maximum total promo cash refund on non-runners, with the other rules above taken into account, is a monkey (or £500 if you prefer).
- IMPORTANT: all promo cash must be used to place a bet on racing within 24 hours of it being credited, before it turns into a pumpkin (or expires, at least)
In essence then, bet the horse you like and if it doesn't run, you'll get betting vouchers to the same value, to be used on the same day as the race in which your fancy failed to turn up. Simples!
STOP PRESS: AS OF 8PM FRIDAY 22ND FEBRUARY, BETVICTOR HAVE GONE NON RUNNER NO BET, SO IF YOU'RE NAG NO-SHOWS, YOU GET YOUR CASH BACK!
(And wouldn't you just know it?!)
OK, so with caveat emptor in place, here are seven horses which I believe have an excellent chance IF they show up in the race for which I've flagged them... and of course, if they don't you'll be able to back something else in a 'bet to nothing'.
Supreme Novices' Hurdle - Champagne Fever 16/1.
This is a very good horse. In fact, he was good enough to win the Champion Bumper last year at the Festival over course and distance (though without the timber-framed impediments it should be said).
Since then, he's had a curious campaign: first he swum home in front in appalling conditions in a Grade 1 bumper at Punchestown (yes, I was unfortunate enough to be there); then he won a maiden hurdle at odds of 1/8 (better than you'll get at the bank); then he was beaten a length and a half by Jezki on soft in a Grade 1; then he was stepped up in trip and walloped in a Grade 2; and then he was stepped back down in trip to two and a quarter miles and won the Grade 1 Deloitte.
He's got three Grade 1 scores on his card, including at the Festival last year, and on his last start. He was beaten less than two lengths by Jezki in a fourth Grade 1, and that rival is now as short as 5/2 with Ladbrokes, despite having to prove his aptitude both for faster ground and Cheltenham's unique undulations.
Champagne Fever is 16/1.
Of course, there are plenty of others in here with squeaks, most obviously My Tent Or Yours. But he's a best priced 13/8 (I backed him at 7/2 straight after his romp last time! with... yes, BetVictor non-runner free bet - in case he goes for a bigger pot).
And it's instructive to note that only one of the 31 horses rated about 142 have managed to win this. Besides, Paddy Power are bound to go money back if MTOY wins the Supreme. 🙂
So, 16/1 is too big and, with Champagne Fever also holding - less likely - entries in both the Neptune and the potato race (Albert Bartlett), and BetVictor joint-top priced, he readily makes the septet of 'bet to nothing' wagers.
Arkle Challenge Trophy - Arvika Ligeonniere 8/1
Probably the most unpronounceable / unspellable horse name at the Festival, but one with a real squeak nevertheless. He's most likely to run in the Arkle for the same trainer as Champagne Fever, Willie Mullins. But he does also have an entry in the Jewson, over five furlongs further.
I was going to put him up as a 10/1 poke, but Fago (formerly 3rd choice in the Arkle betting) has just been beaten and our man is now only 8/1. Still that is decent enough in a race where I simply don't like the chance of Overturn and where Simonsig has been off a long time (and, whisper it, may not even show up).
Fago has now drifted out to 25/1 highlighting what I'd already highlighted here in my Arkle preview.
The form case for Arvika is robust too: four runs over fences, three wins, two in Grade 1 company, and a soft fall last time, also in Grade 1 company when he'd surely have won otherwise. Those runs were all on boggy ground, but a win at the Punchestown Festival and a fourth in the 2010 potato race, on good turf, show both an alacrity for any going and a compatibility with Cleeve Hill.
The Arkle invariably goes to a well fancied horse, with fourteen of the last fifteen winners coming from the top quintet in the betting. Interestingly (perhaps), only two of those were favourite, and the 8/1 still looks perfectly fair.
If anything besets our potential hero 'twixt today and tapes up, we'll get the cash back to bet elsewhere.
Champion Hurdle - Oscar Whisky 20/1
Yes, yes, I know he'll probably go for the World Hurdle. But on anything remotely soggy in the going description (or better yet, the actual going, as the two tend rarely to align on Cheltenham Tuesday), this fellow has a proper chance in the shorter race.
"He's a two and a half mile horse" they constantly bleat. And yet his record at two miles stands close scrutiny. At the shorter distance, he's 1114131. At two and a half miles, he's 1F1111. At three miles, he's 52. There's no two and a half mile Festival target.
The 4, 3, 5, and 2 were all at Cheltenham but, lest you think he's not so good here, he also has a 1111 to add to that.
The 4 was in the Supreme, race comment "Chased leaders, mistake 4th, right there when not much room 3 out, staying on same pace when not fluent last" - no room and mistake at the last.
The 3 was in the Champion Hurdle on good ground and when Hurricane Fly was in his pomp. (He may still be but there's an argument to say he's a fraction slower now he's nine).
Softer ground and a well judged pace-pressing ride would see Oscar go very close for the frame and have a chance to win too. 20/1 non-runner free bet is a 'bet to nothing'.
National Hunt Chase - Merry King 14/1
Now, the first thing to say here is that it's four miles, right about twenty amateur riders, and hopefully the same number of amateur (or novice, if you'd prefer) horses over 25 brutish fences. So, in all honesty, it's not a fantastic punting proposition, and luck will play a significant part.
My nominee here makes the septet to bet on the basis of his own strong staying record and his trainer's track record. Let's start with his trainer, Jonjo O'Neill, who has won this race four times since 2002. In that time, he's saddled twenty runners, and has also had a third and a fourth placed nag.
Merry King for his part has shown three key attributes for this: stamina (as evidenced by a very close second to stout stayer, Cannington Brook, over three heavy Haydock miles), jumping ability (no reference of a jumping error in four chase starts over ten and a half collective miles), and class (his official rating has risen from 120 to 139 in his last three runs).
He does have entries in other events at the Festival, and that's why non-runner free bet is a good option. Clearly, you need luck as well as class and guts to win a race like this, and if he has any of the first named, 14/1 will be fair enough.
Champion Chase - Mail de Bievre 16/1
This is a race with a solid, and deserved, favourite in the daunting shape of Sprinter Sacre. He's a machine and if he gets there fit and jumps round, nothing gets too close to him. But with ten declarations at the moment, including a couple with little to no hope, and the bookmakers chancing their arms on quarter the odds 1-2-3, there is serious scope for an each way 'bet to nothing'.
Throw into the mix the facts that Cue Card is far more likely to go to the Ryanair Chase (for which he's 7/2 favourite); last year's winner, Finian's Rainbow, has finished last on his two most recent runs (and at ten, is older than all recent winners bar the brilliant Moscow Flyer); and Sizing Europe is eleven now and, whilst I love him, it's a big ask here.
That leaves the recalcitrant but occasionally very good Wishfull Thinking (remember the French photographer who copped it when WT skewed and tumbled in front of the stands last year?!); the not good enough Tataniano and Realt Dubh; Somersby, who is a horse without a trip (but might have a place chance at a price); Sanctuaire, who looks over-rated to me (by the official handicapper I mean)... and our fellow.
So what of him, after the circuitous and occasionally tenuous process of elimination?
Well, he's a Frenchie, sure enough. Mais oui, but he's also not even entered in the Champion Chase.
What?!! Now hold on. Before you think I've lost my Gallic marbles, there's talk of him being supplemented for the race and, in a contest where all bar the jolly have at least some sort of a flaw, Mail de Bievre represents a strong level of French form (second to Rubi Ball, one of their best chasers; and a dual Graded chase winner in his last four runs).
MdB was having his first run for a year and a half on his British debut, and it's possible too that he could 'bounce' (run flat after over-exerting off a long break). But he fairly flew for the first two miles of that race, and a drop to the minimum would be exciting at the very least.
Given he's not even entered currently, it would be silly to bet without the 'bet to nothing' safety net. So 16/1 non-runner free bet it is.
Ryanair Chase - Grands Crus 20/1
How do you solve a problem like Grands Crus? Well, to my eye it's simple, relatively at least. You stop trying to make him run over three miles. He is NOT a three miler, despite his win in the Feltham, a race so infamous for producing RSA non-winners that they ought to re-measure the distance of the Kempton contest. (Note, 2012 Feltham winner Dynaste might not even run in the RSA this year).
Oh, and one other thing. You stop running him on soft ground which he patently hates. Look at this:
Chase form on soft ground or at three miles plus: 14P3P
Chase form on better ground or 2m5f to 3m: 111
Two miles five furlongs on decent ground and, if they've not broken his heart already, Grands Crus could uncork a very bold showing at the Festival. You can forget his run last time (3m2f on heavy) and two starts before that (soft ground, has needed the run generally on seasonal debut). In between, he was third in the King George, an easy three miles which probably aligns fairly well in stamina test terms to the Ryanair's 2m5f.
He has class, we know that. He stays this interim trip fine, we know that. He wants decent ground, (I think) we know that. 20/1 if he turns up here is too big. And if he doesn't, we'll be able to bet something else.
World Hurdle - Grands Crus 20/1
Yes, it's Grands Crus deja vu. This is GC's other entry at the Festival, and he's got form to go close. In fact, back in March 2011 - not so very long ago - GC came closest to lowering Big Buck's' colours, being beaten less than two lengths at the line, in this very race.
But hold on Matt, didn't you just say that Grands Crus doesn't stay three miles? And isn't the World Hurdle three miles? Yes. And Yes.
There is a really obvious difference. Hurdles and fences are different. As Captain Fizz-Goggler would say, they're different words, with different meanings, pronounced differently. Not only that, but they're also different obstacles.
Put it like this: if I asked you (in your prime) to run 400m over hurdles, it might take a while and you'd be pretty tired at the end. If I asked you to run the same 400m over the steeple chase barriers, you'd more likely clamber over a few and maybe have a paddle on the landing side at the water jump. At least, I would.
And I'd be absolutely battered at the end. So yes, a shorter race, or shorter obstacles, do sort of amount to the same thing... I think.
OK, if that sounds reasonable, then you'll be interested to note that on decent ground, Grands Crus is a hurdler of some repute. In fact his record is 11122. The 22 was when second to the aforementioned Buck's who is Big in the Grade 1 events at Cheltenham and Aintree.
With no BB to bother GC this time, he's overpriced, IF the ground comes right and IF he runs here.
Given that BetVictor are insuring the latter position, it's close to a 'bet to nothing'. And of course, we are allowed to back him in two races without falling foul of the rules. 🙂
So there you have it: a septet of precarious 'take a chance' wagers, all insured by those lovely people at BetVictor. As and when other firms go non runner no bet, I'll add that detail here.
Until then, if you don't have a BetVictor account and you like the look of any of my Secret / Magnificent* (delete to denote your preferred cliché) Seven, they'll match your first punt up to a pony (or £25 for those what speak proper). Lovely.
Two weeks and a weekend to go. It's almost bed-wettingly exciting!!!
p.s. who do YOU think is a good 'bet to nothing' opportunity in the context of non runner free / no bet? Leave a comment and let us all know. 🙂