Value Bet: Stand Garde
Ben Linfoot seeks out the value on day one of the Cheltenham Festival and he's focused on the big prices in three races.
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It's a brilliant start to a fabulous week's racing with Tuesday's highlight, the Stan James Champion Hurdle, potentially the race of the Festival.
Last year, when My Tent Or Yours moved through the Supreme like a demon two-miler, when Hurricane Fly regained his hurdling crown with a dominant display, when The New One scooted up the hill in a race in which Istabraq, Hardy Eustace and Rock On Ruby graduated from, and when Our Conor forced many a jaw to drop with a gorgeous victory in the Triumph, many of us pondered the possibility of the quartet facing off in this year's Champion.
And here they all are, fantastically so, and you could make a valid case for any of the fab four.
However, the market is so mature, it's very difficult to find a bet and though my gut feeling is The New One will come out on top from an up-and-coming younger brigade that should be too strong for Hurricane Fly, it really is a race to watch and savour.
Luckily, the supporting races throw up loads of betting opportunities and if you've waited for the week of the Festival for most of your bets then you're in for a treat, as so many good horses have been pushed out as the bookies fight for your business.
Tackling the day chronologically, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' brings about the first chance of the day to get a big-priced winner on the board as both Irving and Vautour look worth taking on.
Both look very good and either could win, but Irving does look like a speed horse who could be suited by a flatter track while Vautour looks a chaser for the future.
Neither of those doubts are sure to stop them winning, but at the prices I want to take them on and it's Willie Mullins' third string VALSEUR LIDO that makes most appeal at 18/1.
He reminds me a little bit of Ebaziyan given that he's a Mullins third-string who has done little wrong over hurdles and is massively unexposed, but his form stands up to close scrutiny too.
He won a maiden hurdle at Cork in November very easily and the third, fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth and tenth have all won since despite getting hammered by this smart prospect that day.
I like how settled and professional he's been in his races and though good to soft ground is an unknown, the bottom line is he's from the best yard in Ireland and could be anything. His price is a reflection of his better-fancied stablemates and I'm happy to take it given his potential.
The other one in the Sky Bet Supreme that I can't resist at the prices is Philip Hobbs' GARDE LA VICTOIRE at 40/1.
Hobbs and owner Diana Whateley are no strangers to winning this race having landed the contest with Menorah four years ago and this fellow looks a huge price to follow in his footsteps.
He looked a very smart prospect when winning on good to soft ground at both Aintree and Warwick earlier in the season, beating JP McManus-owned horses Regal Encore and Gone Too Far, while his second to Ballyalton at Cheltenham was a very good effort too.
The pair pulled well clear of some subsequent winners that day (Doctor Harper, Ghost Of A Smile and Hawaii Five Nil) and at that point he was quoted at around 16/1 for the Supreme which looked about right.
One below-par effort in the Tolworth later (too keen in soft ground) and he's over twice the price, and 40/1 looks too big especially now the ground has dried up in his favour.
Nothing stands out in the Arkle at the prices so it's onto the Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase and again I'll be taking two against the field.
First up CANTLOW, who is trading at 16/1 after being backed into favouritism in midweek but has been friendless since.
Perhaps it's because of Paul Webber's form, perhaps it's because Ger Fox claiming seven isn't AP McCoy. Whatever it is, he's now a big price as he's been crying out for the extra trip and he's fine on the drying ground.
His effort behind Double Ross in December is probably the best piece of form in the race and off just a 3lb higher mark he must have a chance of going close, especially if the longer trip helps him out in the jumping department.
I like him and STANDING OVATION who can put a few below-par runs behind him and run a huge race at 25/1.
It was one race too many in a short space of time when he lost at Cheltenham in November while he needed the run when beaten in the BetBright Chase at Kempton last month.
However, he should be now cherry-ripe for this and he gets on great with Conor O'Farrell, who can get him into a good rhythm in a prominent position. I expect the pair to put in a really good effort.
Quevega should win the mares and though I was tempted by Rogue Angel, the top three in the market should prove too good in the National Hunt Chase.
So, finally, the Rewards4Racing Handicap Chase and though Art Of Logistics has a very good chance now the ground has come right for him, fellow Irish raider KING VUVUZELA could be the better bet at 28/1.
Paul Nolan's charge has run three times with 'good' in the going description and has won twice, so the ground should be right up his street too.
He stayed on well to win over the extended two miles at Leopardstown over Christmas but his real eye-catching run came at the same track last time when he travelled best of all in a good race before finding little after the last.
Paul Carberry takes the ride again and he can nurse him into from a hold-up position - and hopefully he'll find more off ground that might just suit him better.
Evan Williams' BUYWISE is unproven on this sort of ground, but he's another strong traveller who can work his way through the field from the back.
He's done things so easily on his last three runs that the handicapper might not have him where he wants him yet and at 20/1 he's another one that makes plenty of appeal.
1pt win Garde La Victoire in 1.30 Cheltenham at 40/1
1pt win Valseur Lido in 1.30 Cheltenham at 20/1
1pt win Cantlow in 2.40 Cheltenham at 16/1
1pt win Standing Ovation in 2.40 Cheltenham at 25/1
1pt win Buywise in 5.15 Cheltenham at 20/1
1pt win King Vuvuzela in 5.15 Cheltenham at 28/1
Ben Linfoot's Value Bet Aim: The Value Bet is designed to generate long-term profit by searching for overpriced horses in the feature weekend races and at the big Festivals in the UK. Running total: +241.81pts to advised stakes/prices (from inception of Value Bet column in January 2010 to current).