In this week's column Tony Calvin talks about the Betfair Sportsbook's Non-Runner No-Bet concession, which went live today on all Cheltenham races, as well as looking ahead to the weekend racing where plenty of Grand National hopefuls will be on display...
"So dust off your study goggles, and get to work on those Festival markets on the Sportsbook safe in the knowledge that you will get your money back if your horse doesn't rock up, for whatever reason."
This is one of the more quiet weekends betting-wise - more of Saturday's action later in the piece - but Betfair Sportsbook injected some ante-post interest into proceedings by going Non-Runner No-Bet (NRNB) on all races at the Cheltenham Festival as at 2pm on Wednesday afternoon following the entries for the final five races being revealed, and the weights for the handicaps being announced.
Now, let's be honest here, everyone is aware of the limits and frustrations punters suffer on a daily basis when betting these days.
But the Cheltenham Festival is one occasion when the bookmakers really roll out the red carpet for punters, as opposed to pulling the rug from underneath them, and NRNB is high up on the list of the loss-leading concessions by the layers. And there are plenty.
Well, when I say loss-leading, that is not strictly true - there is often a trade-off between taking a NRNB price, for example, and a bigger "all-in" price elsewhere, and bookmakers know that getting the punters in the door is well over half the battle when it comes to Cheltenham trade - but if you pick your battles carefully then it is clearly a great safety net for ante-post punters.
And many are tempted into potential life-changing accumulators.
So dust off your study goggles, and get to work on those Festival markets on the Sportsbook safe in the knowledge that you will get your money back if your horse doesn't rock up, for whatever reason.
And always be alert to immediate opportunities. Sometimes it can be fastest-finger first.
For example, you can bet your bottom dollar plenty of punters would have been scurrying around trying to snaffle juicy NRNB prices about La Vaticane after her wide-margin win at Wincanton today (or Wednesday, if you are reading this from Thursday onwards..) She is currently in three Cheltenham handicaps, as well as being entered at Newbury on Saturday, so NRNB is a very good option if you fancy backing her for the Festival.
I'll stop short of putting up any NRNB bets at this stage but, rightly or wrongly, many punters love sticking favourites in a Festival acca and good luck to them.
Like I said, the NRNB element is peace of mind, if nothing else, and history tells us that in the final two weeks before the Festival starts on March 15 some high-profile names - and we have already lost plenty, obviously headed by Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle - will drop out, and be re-routed to other races.
Black Hercules, favourite for the NH Chase, was the most recent example of that and he is now heading for either the JLT or RSA
And it is refreshing to see that the NRNB concession does not necessarily preclude firms like Betfair Sportsbook from going top price too, where and when they see fit.
So, crack on with the multiple Festival bets, if that is your bag. We will pick our battles more selectively in the coming days - and remember you will see plenty of NRNB "defensive" prices, which will be bigger on the day, so be aware - so stay tuned.
Talking of choosing your battles, this weekend's racing looks tough, with an unsettled forecast and running plans hard to nail down.
It was good to see my two ante-post selections for the Grand National among the 113 entries remaining in the race after Wednesday's most recent declaration stage.
Triolo D'Alene can be forgiven his below-par run on bad ground at Ascot last time, and at least our 220.0219/1-recommended flier Ballynagour is still in there fighting!
And Many Clouds gets his chance to surpass Betfair Ascot Chase winner Silviniaco Conti at Kelso at the head of the Aintree betting at the weekend - there is also a market up on the Premier Hurdle on the exchange for that meeting - and he is one of a few National entries on show this weekend.
There are a few Aintree possibles in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster, of which the most notable will be The Last Samuri, who trades at around the 5-1 mark for the weekend.
I was toying with giving Ikorodu Road another chance at his favourite course at around 20-1 mark off the minimum 10 stone - he actually won this race in 2012 - but I was a touch disappointed with him last time, albeit the atrocious weather on the day wouldn't have helped him one iota.
I may consider him again when I have a better handle on likely ground and weather conditions on Friday, but I would say one thing. If you fancy a horse each-way, then consider backing them ante-post now, as there are currently 20 runners in the race and there are likely to be only three places up for grabs once the final decs are known, and not the current four.
The Greatwood Veterans' Chase and the Greatwood Gold Cup are the two ante-post races from Newbury on Saturday, with the latter the bigger betting race.
I'll cut to the chase and say nothing is screaming at me in the Gold Cup at the prices at the moment - though I will get properly stuck in when the runners are confirmed at 10am on Thursday morning - but the two on my short list as it stands are Simply Wings and Little Jon. But more of that on Friday at 5pm.
Good luck - and keep those Cheltenham NRNB eyes peeled. Look before you leap, though!