With just a fortnight to go until the Cheltenham Festival 2021, a number of bookmakers are now offering the 'non runner no bet' (money back if your horse doesn't run) concession. This is great news for punters, especially when allied to one bookmaker's - bet365 - best odds guaranteed concession. In this article, I've found seven horses that can be backed for 'the wrong race at the right price': stars which are expected to line up elsewhere but which would likely shorten from currently available odds if doing a late switcheroo.
They're presented in race order, starting on Tuesday, Day 1...
Honeysuckle - Mares' Hurdle - 11/8 bet365 (NRNB, BOG)
"She's running in the Champion Hurdle", all my friends tell me. And they're probably right. But she's the reigning champ in this race and the drying ground will make the two mile Champion more of a speed test than this two and a half mile contest. She's the classiest mare in the entries for this race by at least seven pounds, and there's a chance that drying ground sees Roksana re-routed to the Stayers' Hurdle. There will still be Concertista to deal with, but Honeysuckle will be more 8/11 than 11/8 on the day if she runs here. If she doesn't, you'll get your cash back a fortnight hence.
Royale Pagaille - National Hunt Chase - 5/2 bet365 (NRNB, BOG)
Venetia Williams' wildly experienced novice, Royale Pagaille, looks to have stamina as his strong suit. I was so taken with his outright demolition of a solid Graded handicap field in the G2 Peter Marsh at Haydock that I backed him for the Gold Cup. He's rated in the Gold Cup ball park off that run, too, though I don't fully trust it, given his main market rival, Sam's Adventure, came down too far out to judge whether he'd have been an actual threat in the race; and the third favourite, Acey Milan, also exited at a fence.
It is also true that RP has been dishing up in deep ground and it remains to be seen how he handles quicker terrain. For all of those reservations, he has been ultra-impressive visually, and his stamina combined with fluent jumping makes him a natural for a staying test like this. There are other credible contenders in the field, not least Galvin, but if Royale Pagaille lines up here rather than his other entries, he'll take some beating. If not, no damage done, money back.
Ballyadam - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle - 14/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG)
Slightly more speculative, this one, but with the same 'second choice race' angle in play. Ballyadam has hitherto raced exclusively at around two miles, but has been beaten the last twice at the trip. In his defence, those defeats were in Grade 1 company against tip top opposition, and he got closest to Supreme favourite Appreciate It in the Chanelle Pharma last time. Closest, yes, but there is no real reason to believe he ought to reverse form with that one; so why not take on a different group of horses over a slightly longer trip?
Breeding - by Fame And Glory out of a Bob Back mare - suggests he'll stay the Ballymore range without a care, and in a race that is 3/1 the field, he has Grade 1 credentials. 14/1 looks a very playable each way proposition, with the NRNB proviso.
Shady Operator - Glenfarclas Chase - 10/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG) or 10/1 Fred (NRNB)
Shady Operator could be an apt winner for players of this slightly snide angle. The horse is banks king Enda Bolger's latest McManus project, and was revitalised by a first spin over ditches, wedges and all in the PP Hogan Memorial Chase - a key prep for this - last time. There he won in a field of 17 which contained plenty of dead wood; so, too, will Day 2's Cross Country field. He was effective rather than eye-catching in winning but that was his first cross-country effort in public. As an eight-year-old he's oodles of upside in this sphere and is clearly with the right man.
He is not a guaranteed runner, hence the insurance caveat of NRNB, but this race is looking less and less clear cut by the day. Easysland was expected to bolt up before flopping at the November meeting; he was then expected to race in France as a preparation but skipped that, too, so comes in off that solitary, below par, effort. He could easily bounce back but is not the 'gimme' he looked going into the November meeting.
What of Tiger Roll? Who knows? But he looks a shadow of his past self even allowing that a spring campaign will have always been the plan. Then come the French pair of Ajas and Uniketat: the former is trained, like Easysland, by David Cottin and is well fancied by his yard; the latter is a banks specialist who won a very good race at Pau last time, electric jumping a feature of his victory. Uniketat may apparently be done for the season, so one less to feature.
It's hard to get excited by the rest which makes Shady Operator a compelling each way proposition at 10/1 with the BOG and NRNB concessions aforethought.
Energumene - Marsh Novices' Chase - 2/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG)
He's running against Shishkin in the Arkle! Yes, that's very likely the case; but he is still entered here and, given current uncertainty about what will happen with horses trained heretofore by Gordon Elliott - which therefore extends to strong Marsh favourite, Envoi Allen - this could end up a desirable slot for the Arkle second choice.
Energumene would not necessarily be a bigger price than 2/1 if both he and Envoi Allen line up, but he will certainly be a shorter price if he does and the current ante post favourite does not. The balance of probabilities are that this will be a money back job, but he'll look great value if those things do come to pass: that's the whole point of this article!
Roksana - Stayers' Hurdle - 7/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG) or 8/1 Sky/Fred (NRNB)
Dan Skelton trains this mare and she's looked very good either side of a two length third to Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Grade 2 Long Walk Hurdle in December. That run leaves her very little to find with the pair who beat her, especially as she was given a lot to do that day; and, if the ground dries as looks likely, connections may opt to go for the stronger test of stamina this represents rather than the half mile shorter Mares' Hurdle (which could look as deep a race as this in any case).
Her price represents a very solid each way bet in an open section and, as you know by now, if she doesn't run it's money back.
Put The Kettle On - Mares' Chase - 5/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG) or 11/2 PP (NRNB)
Last year's Arkle winner has excellent Cheltenham form, being three from three at the track including that Festival score. Whether she has the stamina for this is uncertain - her best form is at two miles and she was beaten in a Grade 3 over this trip in late 2019; but there's little question it's an easier slot than the Champion Chase in which she is more obviously scheduled to participate.
Put The Kettle On doesn't need to lead, which is just as well in a field that could have plenty of early goers, but her ability to lie handy and her battling qualities, as well as no little class, mean she'd be very competitive if she ran here rather than in the Queen Mother. At an each way price, she is the final leg of this magnificently sneaky seven.
It can be no bigger than 4/1 that none of the above take up these engagements, in which case you've lent your money to bet365 (other books are available) for a fortnight or so. But considering any or all of this septet, perhaps in multiple perms, feels like a wise guy play with plenty of upside and limited downside. Given that four or more non-runners must be odds-on, I've permed them in each-way five-, six- and seven-folds. Declarations day will be interesting!