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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cheltenham Festival betting: day three Thursday

Well, two days down and two to go.

I got out of jail with a winner in the bumper yesterday - it would have been a tough day otherwise although an each way bet on Long House Hall (2nd @ 16/1) paid some nice place money. Although I opposed him, you couldn't help but love to see Sprinter Sacre win the Champion Chase. Everyone loves a good comeback story and this was a cracker. Overall, I'm keeping the head above water at least - some tricky races today but we'll give it a go. Thistlecrack is my banker of the week so I hope he doesn't let me down. Here's today's Irish Independent column. Race by race guide near the bottom of the page:


The Ryanair Chase (2.50) was introduced when the Cheltenham Festival became a four-day event in 2005 but despite being sponsored by an Irish company, horses trained in this country have a poor record with all 32 participants losing to date.
Although it has been a Grade One since 2008, most Irish trainers prefer to take their chances in the Gold Cup if they have a very good horse so the representatives from Ireland have not always been the best the respective stable has to offer. That mostly accounts for the poor showing from the Irish in the last decade although that looks set to change this afternoon with Willie Mullins' Vautour controversially scratched from the Gold Cup to line up here instead.
Vautour's owner Rich Ricci has apologised to punters who had backed him for Friday's showpiece having previously said that the seven-year-old would go to the Gold Cup or else stay at home. I'm in two minds about some of the abuse Rich Ricci has been receiving from punters, especially online. On the one hand, punters do pay for the sport and it would be nothing without them - so they deserve to be treated with respect. But on the other, I think owners and trainers should be free to change their plans for their horses as they see fit and not be beholden to the betting markets, even if those plans are changed late on.
A few years back, I decided that ante-post betting on Cheltenham was not for me anymore after a string of non-runners left me severely out of pocket before a single race had started. People tend to forget that an ante-post wager is essentially two bets: the first is that the horse will actually line up and the second is that he'll win the race. Years back, punters were compensated by big prices for betting early on but these days, I feel that the value is largely gone from ante-post betting. The betting markets are so competitive around Cheltenham when you include the bookmaker specials to these days, I prefer to wait until the day before having a bet.
Getting back to the race itself, Vautour will go off somewhere in the region of 8/11 and you'd have to say that the price is about right. Considering the change of plan connections must feel that the King George runner-up is not 100pc but with 11lbs in hand on official ratings, he can still be below his best and win handy enough.
The World Hurdle is another race the Irish don't raid too often with just one winner since 1995. Mouse Morris' Alpha Des Obeaux is our best hope here. He hit evens in-running when falling in an Aintree novices' hurdle won by Thistlecrack in April and following a couple of places, he got back to winning ways in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran and one or two bookmakers I know have taken quite a few quid for the six-year-old since. It would be nice to see him run a big one but my banker of the week is Thistlecrack - although I won't win any awards for originality here at a price of even-money or thereabouts.
The trial races are a good pointer for this race and he's been the standout horse in this division winning the Long Distance and Long Walk hurdles in fine style at Newbury and Ascot respectively. He may actually have more to come and it's a big compliment that he's being compared to multiple World Hurdle winner Big Buck's. Last year's winner Cole Harden is respected but he hasn't won a race since which is an obvious worry.

The David Pipe-trained Salut Flo offered some relief for punters by winning the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (4.10) at 9/2 but it's one of the most difficult races of the week to decipher and all other winners this century were priced in double-figures. With seven winners since 1996, Martin and David Pipe have managed to find the key to success and Pond House Stables have three representatives in this year's renewal, the most popular of which in the betting is Kings Palace around 12/1.


Nigel Twiston-Davies won the RSA Chase yesterday with Blaklion and his stable can strike again in the opener with Bristol De Mai. The Scilly Isles Chase winner could be a top-class animal and he jumps really well. Garde La Victoire and Outlander are others for the shortlist.
A very tricky 24-runner handicap where a case could be made for nearly half the field so not a race for heavy punting. Expected to go off around 40/1, Peter Bowen's Rolling Maul gets a tentative each-way vote at what seems to be a reasonably fair mark of 135. Jockey David Noonan claims 5lbs which may help just a little.
One of the best horses in training, it's impossible to oppose Vautour for the all conquering Willie Mullins stable. He hit 1/10 in-running when beaten by Cue Card in the King George at Kempton but he's head and shoulders ahead of his rivals here, even if he's only 90pc fit. Road To Riches can fill one of the places.
Big Buck's dominated the staying division for a number of years and we've yet to find one of that calibre to replace him but
Thistlecrack can take up the mantle. Collin Tizzard's gelding can handle various types of ground and always finds plenty when the going gets tough. 
If Einstein were alive, he'd probably find this race just as hard to figure out as the rest of us so stakes should be kept to a fun-sized level. Paul Nicholls' Stilletto is as good a pick as any around 10/1 having won a handicap at Leicester last time by ten lengths.
A new race for the festival, Brian Ellison's tough as teak mare Smart Talk gets the nod ahead of Willie Mullins' Limini. The selection made a bad mistake at Doncaster last time but she battled on to beat Lily Waugh and Morning Run at 7/1.
Jockey Jamie Codd has won this race three times and can do so again on Cause Of Causes. Gordon Elliott's charge was the runner-up in 2014 and early odds of 11/2 look about right.

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