Our Matt Brocklebank highlights five key pieces of punting advice ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.
1. All eyes and ears; but mainly eyes
Without wanting to play down our Cheltenham Daily Podcast, which will no doubt be packed with countless golden audio nuggets throughout, if you spend your time listening to the advice of your mate’s uncle’s barber during Cheltenham week, then you’re more than likely going to come up short. There’s a whole lot of ‘yak’, to borrow a phrase, in the build-up to Cheltenham and frankly you’ve no excuse not to watch a few replays (free of charge for Sporting Life users) and make your own judgement. Trust your eyes above all and don’t get sucked in by wild conjecture – if you get excited about hearing a horse has been purposefully 'laid out' for Cheltenham, then here's an absolutely vital piece of news for you: they all have. Apple's Jade just won the Irish Champion Hurdle by 16 lengths from Supasundae. Watch it back here and marvel.
2. Horses for courses
It’s an oldie, but this well-worn phrase remains the goodest of goodies. Around 60,000 people creating a monstrous din, the most competitive fields of the season and a gruelling, undulating course like nowhere else on Earth - there’s no great surprise that previous Cheltenham experience and, more specifically, Cheltenham Festival experience, stands a horse in good stead ahead of any race on this great stage. Year after year we see horses who shone at the Festival the previous season show their affinity for the place again and while finding the next Quevega – who won at six consecutive Festivals from 2009 to 2014 – won’t be easy, it’s a very short price we see a previous winner going in again in 2019. Presenting Percy, winner of the Pertemps Final in 2017 and RSA Chase in 2018, is joined by the likes of Footpad, Benie Des Dieux, Mister Whitaker and Altior among those looking to go back-to-back at the big spring meeting.
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3. Beware the class-dropper
In the grand scheme of things, there won't be too many horses taking a drop in class at the Cheltenham Festival. This is the best of the best, after all, and there are 14 Grade One races in which a drop in class simply isn't possible. But the 10 handicap races on the Festival programme do throw up the odd class-dropper and in recent seasons it has often paid to keep a close eye on them. The Gigginstown House Stud operation have been key exponents of this method, with the likes of Road To Respect (won the 2017 Festival Plate after an eyecatching second in the Grade Two Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan) and Blow By Blow (won the 2018 Martin Pipe after a Grade Three win at Thurles) proving to be well treated, to say the least. So look out for the Gigginstown horses switches Graded race for Cheltenham handicap - a couple who potentially fit the bill this year are Gun Digger and Defi Bleu, who have options in all kinds of races but will definitely be easing in class if heading down the handicap route.
4. Keep calm and carry on
It's not the most exciting punting pointer in the world, but not treating the final race of the day as 'the lucky last' has to be on this list. It's a nonsensical notion at the best of times, but with so many top-class events and fantastic betting opportunities throughout the week, focusing on the races in which you have the strongest opinions should lead to a healthier return in general. So don't be led by the programme book, and don't be led by the masses either. Take a good look at the betting following the six-day entry stage and you'll get a good idea of what the market should be looking like on the day. After all, the form is now in the book - the talking is almost over - and anything shifting out in the betting late in the day, especially in the Grade Ones, certainly shouldn't put you off their chances. Horses unlikely to be all the rage in the betting - but hold outstanding form claims nevertheless - include Chris Gordon's Close Brothers Novices' Chase contender Highway One O One and Stayers' Hurdle favourite Paisley Park, who would probably be more like 4/5 than 7/4 were he trained by a Mullins or Henderson.
5. More the merrier
In this year, of all years, which has been truncated - at best - due to the unseasonably dry winter and outbreak of equine influenza in vaccinated horses, experience could just hold the key in the novice races at Cheltenham. Novice chasers such as Santini, Topofthegame and Lalor have had just the two starts over fences for one reason or another and they're still among the favourites for their respective races. Big Arkle hope Glen Forsa may be an easy target given he was rated a mere 114 when he started out over fences in November but that was his third outing of the season and he's since raced twice more and won twice. Remarkably, five of the past nine winners of the National Hunt Chase (four-miler) were having their 10th start (or more) over the larger obstacles. There is one such qualifier among this year's entries - Henry Daly's Atlanta Ablaze - and there have been nibbles of support for the Wincanton winner in recent days. Nearer the head of the betting, Le Breuil and Impulsive Star haven't had 10 but they've featured in five and six chases respectively so may clearly have an experience edge over shorter-priced rivals Ok Corral and Ballyward (just two apiece).