This week's antepost preview from our top tipster Tony Calvin features a look at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival's Non-Runner No-Bet races, and some early thoughts ahead of Saturday's racing at Kempton and Warwick...
"He is equally at home on soft or good ground, and has also won on heavy, and he is now only 1lb higher than when chasing home Native River in the 2016 Hennessy just three starts ago."
The Betfair Sportsbook went non-runner no bet on the four Championship races at the Cheltenham Festival races and the Ryanair Chase last week, and I have had a good look trying to find a bet in those contests.
And failed miserably.
It is hard to find an angle in the Champion Hurdle with Buveur D'Air such a solid favourite at 8/13 (though he is [1.91] on the exchange), and it is pretty hard to warm to any of the others in the market at the current prices.
Of course, you could get very lucky if you field against the favourite and he doesn't get there for some reason - and plenty have dropped out in the last couple of months, as we saw with Thistlecrack yesterday, and in the lead-up in previous seasons - but I think that is about the only way you are going to land on a good bet in this market.
I suppose the non-runner no bet angle is tailor-made for Faugheen, who is back in full training now after being pulled up in the Ryanair Hurdle, but you are being made to pay for the privilege as he is currently 11/4 on the Sportsbook as opposed to [6.8] on the exchange.
That is probably justifiable given the 2015 Champion Hurdler brings the best form to the party courtesy of his 2016 Irish Champion Hurdle win and his troubled, recent, profile, but if he goes straight to Cheltenham without a run - and I know Leopardstown in early February is being talked of as a possibility for his next run, "back on the radar" in fact - then he will go off bigger than 11/4 with Buveur D'Air in the line-up come March 13th.
The Champion Chase revolves around Altior being fit and well after his wind issue, and that is why he is 5/6 NRNB with the Sportsbook.
That makes zero appeal though, even if you can't see much in the way of opposition at the moment if he returns in peak form, though the Willie Mullins' battalions of Douvan, Min, Yorkhill, Un De Sceaux and Footpad (though it is not the trainer's style to run his novices outside of their grade) et al are obviously lurking in the background.
Well, actually, there is enough potential opposition around, reading that list alone!
However, if forced to have a bet at this stage, I think Special Tiara probably fits the bill each-way at 16/1, but he is available to small money at [34.0], win-only, on the exchange and that is arguably at least as attractive.
People forget that he is the current two-mile champ after beating Fox Norton a head last season and he is a consistent and high-class chaser when getting his preferred good ground, as he also underlined with third places in the 2015 and 2016 renewals.
He comes into his own in the second half of the season and I just hope that his fall in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas (his first ever fall, though he has unseated before) hasn't left its mark on the 11yo. Yes, he is the one that interests me most, but still no bet.
Whisper it quietly, but the way most people tend to play these NRNB fixed-odds bet markets, or at least attempt to, is to target horses that are priced close to their exchange price, though very few are, for obvious reasons. Those pesky "line trackers", eh, how dare they.
With that in mind, the 5/1 chance Top Notch will interest many as he currently trades at [6.8] on the Ryanair Chase exchange market.
He didn't run in the King George as his owners had the £1m bonus-chasing Bristol De Mai in the race, but they were probably ruing not going in two-handed the way the race panned out.
Top Notch's JLT second looks very strong form and he gave 3lb and an 8-length beating to the Kempton runner-up Double Shuffle at Ascot before not looking quite as impressive against his stablemate in the Peterborough Chase last time.
The Ryanair looks his race but you have to ask yourself what price will he be on the Thursday morning of the Festival when all the bookmakers are fighting for your pound? I don't think he can, or will, be too far south of the current 5s then.
As I mentioned last week one horse that was on my radar for the Stayers' Hurdle wasn't even in the market, either Sportsbook or exchange.
So I requested Agrapart to be introduced into the fixed-odds line and they did so at 33/1. I was hoping for a bit bigger, to be honest, - no, a lot bigger - but bookmakers are rarely overly-generous in these circumstances. They are pricing with a marked hand, so to speak, when asked.
But Agrapart is exactly the ground-dependent type who probably won't run if the ground isn't at least soft. Connections did run him on good ground when he was a 66/1 chance when well beaten in the race last season but they look to have learned their lesson, and they even withdrew him on ground that was borderline soft at Ascot last month.
Now, recent history suggests this is probably a money-back job, and you are just tying up funds until March.
But if we do get soft or worse conditions on the Thursday at the meeting, then he comes bang into the equation. He won the Relkeel in soft ground last year and ran a very encouraging race, under a 6lb penalty, when second to Wholestone earlier in the month.
His record over this longer trip to date suggests it isn't sure to suit, but I think he is crying out for it now. And he is still only a 7yo remember, having won a Betfair Hurdle by 11 lengths on heavy two years ago.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
The latest forfeit stage for the Gold Cup is today and I just hope that Disko is left in the race when we become aware of the entries.
We haven't seen the horse since November, and he was a no-show in the King George and over Christmas - he must have had a problem - and he is probably more of a Ryanair prospect anyway (or at least considered so, by connections). But I am convinced he is a top-class staying chase prospect myself, and I hope he is campaigned accordingly.
Frost and Sheriff the two of interest in Saturday's Lanzarote
This weekend's action sees the Lanzarote at Kempton head the interest levels and Diese Des Bieffes heads the betting at 7/1 with the Sportsbook.
It isn't hard to see why as the 5yo looked ready for a step up to this 2m5f trip when second to the impressive If The Cap Fits over 2m at Kempton last time, and has an attractive profile from a top stable.
He looks a similar (if by no means identical) type to the stable's Oscara Dara who won this race, on his first attempt at 2m5f, in 2013 and it isn't hard to see him running a big race off a mark of 135.
However, two that interest me more at this stage are River Frost and I Shot The Sheriff.
River Frost ran an exceptionally promising race when fifth at Chepstow first time out in October, but we haven't seen him since.
Presumably he has had an issue or two since, or maybe they have simply been protecting his handicap mark.
He did go up 3lb for being beaten 2 lengths in the Silver Trophy but the form has proved to be red hot, with any number of winners coming from the race, chief among them current Stayers' Hurdle favourite Sam Spinner, who finished second off a mark of just 136 there, and Relkeel victor Wholestone.
River Frost is a course and distance winner and two from two at the track (also won the 2m handicap hurdle on this card last season) and he must go well if rocking up after that fair absence. The soft ground should be okay for him, as he had form in testing ground in France and was running well in heavy when falling at Wincanton last February.
I Shot The Sheriff was pulled up on his first start for Fergal O'Brien over 3m at Newbury, but that tells only a quarter of the story as he was travelling well when his jockey thought he went lame there and eased straight off.
He was trading at 2.66 before something appeared to go wrong that day - he was found to be sound after the race but returned with a loose shoe - and he has to be of interest if lining up here.
Destrier an each-way play in Warwick's Classic Handicap Chase
No bet at the moment in the Lanzarote, so over to the big staying handicap chase at Warwick where some bookmakers are betting 8/1 the field.
The handicapper has played very fair with Carole's Destrier, having dropped him 5lb for his Ladbrokes Trophy run, and he looks competitively priced at [17.0] on the exchange and 14/1 with the Sportsbook who, unlike some layers, are offering four places on the current 20-strong field.
He is equally at home on soft or good ground, and has also won on heavy, and he is now only 1lb higher than when chasing home Native River in the 2016 Hennessy just three starts ago.
He has no other weekend entries and, all things considered, I think he is worth an each-way bet at 14/1. He can also hump big weights in these type of races, as we saw with his 3m5f Betfair London National win in 2015 under 11st 12lb.