Go on a cruise? Hide in a cave? For any fan of the four day Cheltenham Festival and I mean fan in the true sense of the word “fanatical”, who loves their National Hunt racing and expresses their opinions through their wallet the next ten days are simply the worst! You have to keep up with all the breaking news whether it’s Thistlecracks tendon tear, Coney Islands bruised foot or Barry Geraghty’s ribs and punctured lung, you have to know! No Cheltenham obsessive could go twenty four hours without taking a look at Oddschecker to hopefully see that those already in a burgeoning Ante Post portfolio are a line of blue and that those under heavy consideration haven’t moved and the 25/1 is still available in at least one High Street bookmaker. It can be really difficult not to add to that portfolio but you know that come that Tuesday morning there will be a plethora of customer inducing offers, indeed Paddy Power have already announced that it is money back as a Free Bet if your horse finishes second in any of the first five races on all four days up to £20 and Sky Bet is refunding all first race losers up to £20. There will be five place races, six place races, ¼ the odds in non-handicaps. The markets will be less than ten per cent over-round, even under in some cases. The handicaps will be 8/1 the field plus. Betting Ante Post on the High Street now with Coral, Ladbrokes or Betfred now is simply crazy and even those with any sort of non-runner non bet insurance are unlikely to be shorter come the day.
All this made me think who or what will move the market come Festival time? It is one of the few times of the year that the exchanges may have to play second fiddle to the money bet in the shops, on-line and especially on the course (he sheds a nostalgic tear!). I have come up with three answers.
The first I will call the “Pricewise” factor. Tom Segal from the Racing Post can easily set a horse’s price on a downward spiral from 6pm the night before accelerated by punters “following the money”. Paul Kealy, betting editor of the Racing Post, and Hugh Taylor of At the Races are also gaining in influence.
The second is legendary punter JP McManus, the Sundance Kid himself, and boy does he have some toys to play with this March! 2017 looks like it will be the McManus horses forming the core of many Festival acca’s as opposed to the Mullins/Ricci axis of past seasons.
Starting with the obvious, on Tuesday he has Yanworth and Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle, on Wednesday he has Cantlow and Cause of Causes (halved in price in the last week!) in the Cross Country, on Thursday he has, what I think is his Festival banker, Unowhatimeanharry and possibly Jezki in the Stayers Hurdle and on Friday Defi du Seuiel heads the market in the Triumph! Could any one of those attract a six figure punt from JP?
Then the ones perhaps the layers fear most, the handicappers. The likes of Blazer, Squouateur, Consul de Thaix, Ivanovich Gorbatov, For Good Measure, Le Prezien, No Comment, Project Bluebook could all be the best backed of the week not to mention Edwulf in the NH 4m chase and probably at least half a dozen you can think of!
The third answer are the “returnees”. Many of the Festival punters will be keen to get on horses who won for them last year and maybe even the year before as well. Top of the list would be the two mighty two mile chasers Douvan and Altior but with both trading around 2/7 I don’t think they will cause the High Street bookmakers too much damage. 2016 winners Vroum Vroum Mag, Unowhatimeanharry and Yorkhill will all be obvious targets for bookmakers keen to get them beaten. However a couple who could really have the layers running for cover are Diamond King who will be hoping to add a Brown Advisory Plate Chase to the Coral Cup Hurdle he won last season and Mall Dini who will presumably in the Kim Muir Amateur Riders Chase try to emulate what he did in the Pertemps Hurdle twelve months ago but this time with “The Codd-father” steering instead of Davy Russell.
However students of form who like their Cheltenham selections to have previous Festival experience might like to have a very close look at last season’s Supreme novice hurdle as I think it could produce upward of three winners twelve months on. If you remember the finishing order was:-
1st Altior 1/3 to win the Arkle and a Festival banker.
2nd Min Sadly on the injured list but aiming for Punchestown.
3rd Buveur D’Air 7/2 joint favourite for the Champion Hurdle.
4th Tombstone 12/1 for the Champion Hurdle but no bigger than 8/1 for the County hurdle off a lenient (?) OR148.
5th Charbel Has another crack at Altior in the Arkle and looks like being 12/1 second Favourite?
6th Mister Miyagi 25/1 for the Coral Cup but trainer thinks the Aintree Hurdle in April is his race.
7th Supasundae Been nibbled at in the Coral Cup market but still top priced 25/1 with Coral, allegedly.
8th Petit Mouchoir Mullins to de Bromhead. Much improved (?) and 11/2 for the Champion Hurdle
9th North Hill Harvey Won the Greatwood and kept for the County. Been market leader for three months, 8/1 max.
10th William H Bonney Lively 20/1 shot for the County.
13th Bellshill This was a bad Mullins call last year but in 2017 he is in the RSA at about 12/1.
Now that was a quality field.
No cruise or cave for me, I’ll just blog ‘til I drop!