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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cheltenham Festival betting: Thursday

Good morning folks, just two winners yesterday but it keeps the head above water. It kills me to do it, but I'm opposing Big Buck's today. Here's today's Irish Independent article:

LOYALTY is usually seen as an asset in this life but when it comes to backing horses, it's a virtue which can often prove costly. I'm an absolutely huge fan of Paul Nicholls' Big Buck's and he's got me out of jail more than once at Cheltenham; so I feel a little guilty passing him over in the World Hurdle (3.20) in favour of Willie Mullins' Annie Power. Rated 170, Big Buck's is 5lbs superior on official figures but how accurate that rating actually is remains to be seen as he's only had one comeback race following an absence of 14 months due to injury. In fairness, he was entitled to a little rustiness and the heavy ground didn't do him any favours although we'll find out today whether those factors played a part in his loss or if it's a case that his ability is declining with age. To win good races at eleven is difficult for any horse but even more so at Cheltenham as we saw with Hurricane Fly in Tuesday's Champion Hurdle. I almost feel guilty abandoning one of my all time favourite horses but if Annie Power gets the distance, Big Buck's would probably have to put in a career best to beat her which I just can't see happening at this stage to be honest. The truth is, we don't yet know how good Annie Power might actually be although the evidence from her unbeaten run of ten is that she's by far the best mare in training. As mentioned, the only worry is the distance and she's never raced beyond 2m5f. She made it look easy in a mare's hurdle at Doncaster last time although she was rated miles clear of the field so we didn't really learn too much from that. But her manner of victory at Cheltenham previously against Zarkandar was very taking and she appears to be frighteningly good. Even if she doesn't like the trip, her talent can see her through and with a 7lb weight allowance for her sex, the layers may be left wondering why they ever let her go off as high as 7/4. 

Lay of the day
Paul Nicholls' Al Ferof went off at 5/4 in the Grade Two Denman Chase last time out but he finished 25 lengths behind Harry Topper in a race which lacked any real depth. It was a gruelling test over three miles and Al Ferof crossed the line looking extremely tired. He's 7/2 in places for today's Ryanair Chase (2.40) which seems very short considering he's only had a month to recover. 

The last Irish trained horse to win the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (4.40) was Greasepaint, trained by Michael Cunningham back in 1983. That fact hasn't put off supporters of Gordon Elliott's Cause Of Causes, which has been backed into 6/1 following a good performance when runner-up in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown last time.

One of the newer races at the Festival, it's been upgraded to Grade One status for 2014. Paul Nicholls' WONDERFUL CHARM was struggling with his breathing last year but an operation over the summer has worked a treat and he's since won three novice chases. Oscar Whiskey beat him last time out by half a length but it was a great performance considering he was giving Oscar Whiskey 8lbs. At 5/1, Wonderful Charm should reverse the placings today although it would be foolish to discount the threat posed by some others in the field including Felix Yonger.
This race has been notoriously difficult to decipher in recent years and the last ten winners have all gone off in double-figure odds. Not a race for heavy punting then, CROSS KENNON gets the nod each-way at an outside price of 33/1. He was once rated in the 150s but he's back down to a realistic 139 off which he won the Rendlesham Hurdle back in 2011.
The Ryanair Chase has become very competitive since upgraded to Grade One and the last four winners were all rated in the 160s. David Pipe's DYNASTE (7/2) ran poorly in the King George last time but his second place to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock is the best piece of form here and he should appreciate the drop back down in trip today.
With ANNIE POWER confirmed to take on Big Buck's, this year's World Hurdle is certainly one of the most intriguing races of the day. The heart says Big Buck's but the head says Annie Power - although it must be said that she's not certain to get the three mile trip.  Big Buck's is no doubt one of the greatest staying hurdlers of all time but at eleven years of age, he may struggle to contain Willie Mullins' latest star which gets a valuable 7lbs allowance for her sex.
Another nightmare race for punters, David Pipe's Salut Flow (2011) was the only winner priced in single figures since 1999. It's usually best to ignore heavily weighted horses and GIORGIO QUERCUS (25/1) gets the each-way vote for Nicky Henderson, who won this race in 2006 with Non So. The selection won a handicap at Kempton in November but a 6lbs rise is not too harsh and he may have enough wriggle room at the weights to land a place.
Donald McCain has a fantastic win and place record in this race and six-year-old INDIAN CASTLE makes appeal at 5/1. A decent novice hurdler last year, he's taken to the bigger obstacles well winning a maiden at Wetherby in November and he also won a novices' handicap chase at this course in January. He's up 5lbs for that win but he still relatively unexposed and a bold run is expected. Cause Of Causes, which traded as low as 1/5 in-running before being beaten by a short head in the Paddy Power Chase, is another one for the shortlist. 


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