I have seen some people remark there is no such thing as a no-bet race at Cheltenham and, quite frankly, that is as big a nonsense as the irresponsible “certainty” talk in Festival preview-land.
Sure, we all like to have an interest in every race (and I’d have a boot in that camp too if the price is right), but if there is one thing you have to keep next week it is your discipline.
If in doubt, walk away.
Remember, these Cheltenham markets have been formed and matured over the past few months and, with the fields smaller than in previous years, there are likely to be less ricks and attractive bets as a result.
I sincerely hope that assessment is well wide of the mark (read on…) but, as ever, the overwhelming advice has to be to never force a bet for the sake of having one.
The Responsible Gambling message simply can’t have a week off for Cheltenham.
Cheekpieces a concern for a Soaring start in Supreme
Anyway, overly-pompous sermon over – I occasionally have these moments, so apologies – let’s dive into the Supreme at 13:20.
I am not going to labour the point about this being a disappointing turn-out, with just eight runners, mostly because I am delighted for my personal ante-post positions on Soaring Glory and Irascible!
We all know that Appreciate It brings the best form to the party as it stands after his brace of Grade 1 wins and his bumper win in Ireland last season suggests he could have the speed to win here on decent ground – we look set to start on good to soft – but I don’t think there is too much juice in his price of around 6/4 on the exchange.
I can’t have second favourite Metier at the price, so I do think Soaring Glory and Irascible are the two to concentrate on outside at the jolly, for all I am not going to put either of them up here.
Irascible is more of a guess-up, as his 20/1+ price suggests, but I think the grey has not been ridden to best advantage in both of his recent starts behind Appreciate It (beaten 9 lengths on each occasion) and my gut feel is that he is a big improver.
I was all set to stick Soaring Glory up here, until I saw he was declared in first-time cheekpieces on Sunday morning.
Now, Jonjo O’Neill has a good record when using this headgear initially – Cloth Cap is the most obvious and recent example – but I just don’t get the reasoning here. Soaring Glory is a strong-travelling, straightforward horse who really impressed me in the Betfair Hurdle, so that is a puzzling decision to these eyes.
I think he has a better chance than his current exchange price of around 13/2 suggests – his time at Newbury was excellent and plenty have used that handicap as a stepping stone to huge performances in this Grade 1, including O’Neill – but the cheekpieces are an unnecessary and unwelcome question mark to me. He could well resent them in the heat of battle.
No bet for me in the opener then, and I am more than happy to let Shishkin strut his stuff in the Arkle at 13:55 without my money.
I was actually against him when Energumene was still in the race, but his injury has robbed the race of any betting interest to me, especially with no each-way 1,2,3 betting with a mere six runners.
Happy days to be had in the Ultima
Regular readers will know that I am not one to go with the bleedin’ obvious and so favourites are not my thing, so I was horrified to see that I fancied all of the front three in the betting in the Ultima at 14:30.
Happygolucky, Aye Right and One For The Team are the trio in the question, and the first-named holds outstanding claims.
Basically, he has everything you are looking for, and I think he would win this race more than one time in five. So I am backing him at 5.14/1 and bigger on the exchange.
Much to my surprise. In fact, I feel a little dirty putting him up.
We haven’t seen him since he won here in December but that is no problem. Connections put him away with this race in mind afterwards, and they know they have a horse who excels when fresh.
He won first time up in 2019 and 2020 and he finished fourth in the Martin Pipe here last season after a three-month break.
The ground will be perfect for him, a mark of 147 looks very workable for this lightly-raced performer and I am told his speed figures this season put him near the top of that particular tree in here. And the Kim Bailey yard is in really good nick, too.
If he jumps round with any fluency, he really should be going very close.
Aye Right and One For The Team are big each-way players too, but I am going to suggest getting with Cepage in one of two ways.
Given his suspect stamina, you could go down the back-to-lay angle on the exchange and back him at 20.019/1 or bigger, and look to lay him back at around 3/1 in running.
Or you could back him 16/1 each-way, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
I will go with the latter option.
He hasn’t been his usual reliable self this season and he went up 4lb for his Chepstow win in January, which makes his task here off 158 considerable.
So there are doubts outside of the trip, too.
But I think he could be worth chancing on the expected good to soft going, as he traded at 2.546/4 in running when tanking into this race last season (he was still leading jumping 2 out) before his stamina ran out in the testing conditions (looking back at the video he also sweated up badly there, thought I don’t know if this is a normal trait).
I thought he ran a curious race over an extended 2m7f in the Denman Chase at Newbury last time, staying on late after losing his place, and I am hoping he can last home here on the decent ground.
I don’t fancy many outside of the top three, so I am happy to take my chances on a horse with a string of good efforts around here.
Last year’s runner-up can go close again in Champion Hurdle
As the betting suggests, Honeysuckle is the most likely winner of the Champion Hurdle but I cannot resist an each-way bet on last year’s runner-up Sharjah at 12/1, four places, with the Sportsbook.
This a one top-class 2m hurdler when getting his favoured decent ground and I am willing to forgive him his poor run behind Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle last time. That was the second year in a row he has bombed out in that race, and apparently he is not at home on the more galloping outside track that contest is run on.
He traded at 1.664/6 in running when second to Epatante in this race last year and I reckon the expected better ground and stronger pace this year will really suit this four-time Grade 1 winner.
He will be hard to kick out of the first four on that run, and his Matheson Hurdle defeat of Aspire Tower in December also reads very well, too.
Of course that 7lb mares allowance could prove his undoing once again, so I am also going to suggest backing him at 5/1 each-way, three places, without Honeysuckle and Epatante, with the Betfair Sportsbook (market can be found in the “Betting Without” on the Sportsbook). 4/1 or bigger would be acceptable if the 5s goes.
Hoping for Tears of joy after Mares’ Hurdle
I’d favour Roksana over Concertista at the prices in the Mares’ Hurdle at 15:40 but I was going to sit this one out until I saw the “without” markets once again.
I do think the above pair will fight out the finish, but Black Tears interests me at 4/1 with those two taken out of the equation, and I am going to back and tip her each-way, three places, too.
Dame De Compagnie is the 15/8 favourite on this line but Black Tears came out of the better horse at the weights when they filled the first two places in the Coral Cup here last season.
And while the Nicky Henderson mare comes here on the back of an aborted chase campaign, Black Tears arrives here after a good win in a fast time at Punchestown at the start of the month (though the runner-up did nothing for that form at Limerick on Sunday).
We don’t lose much on the place part if she finishes in the first five (assuming the market leaders do likewise) and I reckon we could be collecting on the win part at 4/1, anyway. Any 3/1+ would be fine too.
Public and Park round off a busy punting day
The Irish could hold a very strong hand in the Boodles at 16:15 but I am sticking to my long-range guns and backing Homme Public at 18/1, six places, with the Sportsbook.
He ran market leader Houx Gris to a neck at Auteuil in October and is 3lb better off here, and recorded a fair time in winning at Market Rasen last time.
He is very lightly-raced after just the four hurdle starts, and hopefully there is a lot more to come from him. There will need to be, mind you.
He is a few points bigger win-only on the exchange but the safety net of six places is worth having.
I was going to leave the National Hunt Chase at 16:50 alone given the defection of Royale Pagaille has actually made the race stronger in competition terms. It is a very deep race now.
But I couldn’t live with myself if Nestor Park won without my tipping him (and I have backed him myself, too) so I am going to suggest supporting him at 50.049/1 or bigger on the exchange.
He has loads to find on form and Luca Morgan can’t claim his 7lb, but this horse has been crying out for a step up in trip on his last two starts, and I reckon he could massively outrun his odds.
I toyed with putting him up 40/1 each-way, four places, but I think win-only is the way to go here given the depth of the race.
Good luck. That was a couple more bets than I was expecting, in truth.